THE PRIME Minister has announced a series of changes to lockdown restrictions in England in an attempt to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Boris Johnson said cases of the disease had quadrupled in the last three weeks, and warned the number of people in hospital is now higher than when the country first went in to lockdown.

In a sombre speech to the House of Commons, Mr Johnson said: "This morning, the deputy chief medical officer set out the stark reality of the second wave of this virus.

“The number of cases has quadrupled in the last three weeks, there are now more people in hospital with Covid than when we went into lockdown on March 23 and deaths are already rising.” 

Areas of England will be placed into one of three categories: medium, high or very high, with restrictions differing depending on which level they are at. 

Areas listed as medium will be subject to the same rules as those which currently apply in England - a 10pm closing time for hospitality, and no more than six people allowed to meet anywhere.

At the high alert level household mixing will be banned indoors. Support bubbles will still be permitted.

The very high alert level will see mixing between housholds banned completely. Pubs and bars will be closed unless they can operate as a restaurant. People will also be advised against travel in and out of the areas. 

Mr Johnson said he did not believe a full-scale national lockdown was the right way to proceed, and told MPs: "Of course, there are those who say that on that logic, we should go back into a full national lockdown of indefinite duration, closing schools and businesses, telling people again to stay at home as we did in March. Once again shattering our lives and our society.

“I do not believe that would be the right course. We would not only be depriving our children of their education, we would do such damage to our economy as to erode our long-term ability to fund the NHS and other crucial public services.

“And on the other side of the argument, there are those who think that the patience of the public is now exhausted, that we should abandon the fight against Covid, stand aside, let nature take her course and call a halt to these repressions of liberty.”

A postcode checker will be launched on the UK Government website for residents in England where they can check which set of restrictions their area is under. 

Each local authority area will be placed in a local Covid alert level by the end of Monday, Downing Street said.

For the areas with the most severe restrictions, a share of £1bn will be provided to give them extra support, according to the Prime Minister. 

 Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty will give a televised conference tonight to tell the public about the changes.