Boris Johnson has ordered the country to stay at home, warning the National Health Service will be overwhelmed within weeks without a national lockdown.
The Prime Minister said that without action, coronavirus deaths would reach “several thousand a day”, with a “peak of mortality” worse than the country saw during the lockdown in April.
Pubs, bars, restaurants and non-essential retail outlets across the nation will close from Thursday, and people will be told to stay at home unless they have a specific reason to leave, but schools, colleges and nurseries will remain open.
People will be allowed outside to exercise and socialise in public spaces outside with their household or one other person, but not indoors or in private gardens, and will be able to travel to work if they cannot work from home.
Furlough payments at 80% will be extended for the duration of the restrictions as high streets once again shut up shop.
MPs will vote on the new measures before they are introduced at 0001 on Thursday, and when they lapse on December 2, the current tier system will be reintroduced.
The hope is that COVID-19 cases will drop low enough to keep on top of outbreaks at a regional level.
In a Downing Street press conference, Mr Johnson said “no responsible Prime Minister can ignore” the rising rates of infections as he announced the lockdown.
He said “we need to be humble in the face of nature”, adding that the virus was spreading even faster than the worst case scenario envisaged by scientists.
He is understood to have been persuaded by new data on NHS capacity and figures released on Friday from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggesting 580,000 people a week are now contracting the virus.
Rates of coronavirus have been increasing in all parts of England and among all age groups and Government scientific advisers have said only a national lockdown could get on top of the epidemic.