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Fears of a third national lockdown for the UK are growing as Boris Johnson refused to rule out strict new measures after Christmas.
The Prime Minister was asked about the possibility of restrictions after the festive period during a visit to Greater Manchester on Friday.
Asked about whether England would follow Northern Ireland's lead in imposing new measures in the New Year, he said: "We're hoping very much that we will be able to avoid anything like that.
"But the reality is that the rates of infection have increased very much in the last few weeks."
It comes as reports warn millions could be plunged into tougher tier four measures in a post-Christmas crackdown.
"There is a case for going further than tier three and it is getting stronger," a Whitehall official told The Times.
As cases rise exponentially across Europe, a top doctor in France has warned a return to normality is looking unlikely until at least Autumn next year.
Jean-François Delfraissy said vaccine production has so far been far slower than expected, meaning curbs to protect the most vulnerable will need to be in place for some time.
Govt refuses to rule out New Year lockdown as NI agrees six-week shutdown
A number of European countries have imposed new strict measures before Christmas.
In Germany, Angela Merkel has cancelled Christmas meetups as cases soar, while Italy and Spain have imposed tough limits on household visitors during the holidays.
Even in Sweden, which was earlier this year praised for its low case numbers despite having few restrictions, the government is now coming under pressure to get a grip on the pandemic.
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- Boris Johnson
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