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4.5million people may be told to 'shield' as coronavirus dam looks set to burst

Up to 4.5million people could be asked to 'shield' themselves from coronavirus this winter as the deadly disease threatens to flood Britain once more.

Boris Johnson is said to be looking at plans for a huge programme that would target those most at risk of serious illness or death from Covid-19.

According to the Sunday Telegraph, they could be asked to stay at home - as in the original shielding scheme - or given tailored advice on protecting themselves.

They would be picked under a 'risk model' based on their underlying health conditions, age, sex or weight.

The newspaper said initially, the new scheme would operate only in local areas with a spike of cases.

But a Whitehall source said: "If the rate is so concerning across the whole of England we are prepared to do it on a blanket basis."

Such a move would be a massive escalation of national measures to control a surge of Covid-19.

The maximum number of people reportedly being considered is DOUBLE the 2.2million who were advised to shield for four months earlier this year.

But the drastic idea comes as the virus surges, with an Imperial College study claiming it is now doubling every week in England and the crucial R number is 1.7.

And a leaked Department of Health memo claims the virus is now spreading again in care homes.

Official figures put R - the number of people infected by each Covid-19 carrier - at 1.0-1.2. But these are thought to be some weeks out of date.

Prof Peter Openshaw of Imperial, who advises government experts SAGE, today warned “we must act fast” to stop the virus exploding.

A delay of even a “few days” could be “dangerous”, he said.

Asked if he agreed Britain was on the “edge of losing control” he told Sky News' Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “Yes, I think that is right.

“It’s a bit like water seeping through a dam. It starts as a trickle and if you don’t do something about it, it can turn into a real cascade.”

As of 9am on Saturday there were a further 3, 497 lab-confirmed cases in the UK.

That figure was slightly lower than the 3, 539 cases recorded on Friday - but the figures are still the highest since just after the peak of the virus in April.

A Downing Street source did not comment on the 'shielding' plan but did not deny it was being considered.

It's reported the plans would hand extra funding to councils to allow officials to check on people and deliver food and medicine where necessary.

But the plans would stop short of the national food parcel delivery service that was set up in the shielding programme.

No10 reportedly abandoned rival plans for a blanket shielding measure that would have targeted anyone over a certain age.

The Sunday Telegraph also reported Boris Johnson is considering a nationwide 10pm or 11pm curfew for pubs and restaurants to shut.

Sources have previously insisted such a measure - which has already happened in Bolton - will only be taken one area at a time, not across the whole of England.

Sir Mark Walport, the former chief scientific adviser, yesterday claimed the country was “on the edge of losing control” of the virus, as he urged people to work from home if they could.

Prof Openshaw added: "Everyone is in agreement that we really need to act very quickly now in order to prevent this from growing exponentially.

"We must act fast because it's so much harder to get this sort of thing under control if you delay even a few days is potentially going to be quite dangerous at this particular moment."

It comes as gatherings of more than six people in England are made illegal from tomorrow.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said a second full national lockdown is still only the 'nuclear option'.

But he said keeping schools, colleges and the economy open will be prioritised over family gatherings if new measures have to be brought in.

"While social occasions are important... they must take second place to those priorities, " he said.

He told Sky News: "This is like a half marathon. Normally this time of the year I'm running half marathons and you get to a point in the race where the gradient starts to go up, it feels really tough.

"You have to dig in, remember that the finishing line is there, and just concentrate on doing the job."