HOLYROOD will be recalled tomorrow in the face of a continuing steep rise in the spread of the new Covid-19 strain as Boris Johnson signalled that another effective UKwide lockdown could be on the cards, warning of “tougher” measures ahead for England.

From Monday, doses of up to one million a week of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine will begin to be distributed in hospitals and GP surgeries across the UK, due to increase to two million by the middle of January. The Prime Minister pointed to “tens of millions” of inoculations over the next few months, believing that some form of normality would resume around Easter.

This morning, Nicola Sturgeon announced, following a meeting of the Scottish Government’s Resilience Committee on Saturday, that she would seek the recall of the Scottish Parliament on Monday afternoon to make an urgent statement to MSPs, who will discuss further measures due to “a rapid increase in Covid cases,” which was causing “very serious concerns”.

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Ahead of the First Minister’s statement to the Scottish Parliament, she will chair a meeting of the Scottish Cabinet to consider any additional measures that might be required to halt the spread of the coronavirus, which in recent days has seen daily UK totals of more than 50,000.

In a series of tweets, the First Minister said: “The rapid increase in Covid cases, driven by the new variant, is of very serious concern.

“The steep increases and severe NHS pressure being experienced in other parts of the UK is a sign of what may lie ahead. So, we must take all steps to slow spread while vaccination progresses.

“We, like other countries, are in a race between this faster spreading strain of Covid and the vaccination programme. As we work to vaccinate as quickly as possible, we must also do more to slow down the virus – to save lives and help the NHS care for all those who need it.”

She added: “All decisions just now are tough, with tough impacts. Vaccines give us way out, but this new strain makes the period between now and then the most dangerous since start of pandemic.

“So, the responsibility of government must be to act quickly and decisively in the national interest.”

Ms Sturgeon, noting how the virus was a “real threat to life and health” and, if unchecked, would damage the economy too, again made a plea to the public to “stay at home as much as possible and avoid non- essential interactions with other households”.

A Scottish Government spokesman later noted: “The even steeper rises and severe pressure on the NHS that is being experienced in some other parts of the UK is a sign of what may lie ahead in Scotland if we do not take all possible steps now to slow the spread of the virus, while the vaccination programme progresses.”

Appearing on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, the PM said he was “fully reconciled” to a probable tightening of the anti-Covid measures south of the border.

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“It may be that we need to do things in the next few weeks that will be tougher in many parts of the country; I’m fully, fully reconciled to that. There are obviously a range of tougher measures that that we would have to consider.

“I’m not going to speculate now about what they would be, but I’m sure that all our viewers and our listeners will understand what the sort of things…clearly, school closures, which we had to do in March is one of those things.”

Mr Johnson made clear that a mass vaccine programme was the way out of the tiering system.

“What we are doing now is using the tiering system, which is a very tough system… and, alas, probably about to get tougher to keep things under control. But we will review it.”

The PM hailed the prospect of the roll-out of vaccines, which were “coming down the track in their tens of millions and that is something that should keep people going in what I predicted, back on your show in in October, will be a very bumpy period right now. It is bumpy and it’s going to be bumpy,” he declared.

The comments came as another national lockdown was called for by Liverpool’s council leaders to deal with a new strain of Covid-19 and prevent a “catastrophe”.

Councillor Wendy Simon, the city’s mayor, and the Labour-run city council’s cabinet said “urgent action” was required due to the rate of the rise in coronavirus infections.

The new strain of Covid-19 transmits faster and is most prevalent in London and south east England, where hospitals have become stretched.

Professor Sir Mark Walport, who is a member of the UK Government’s SAGE advisory group, said it was “pretty clear” tougher restrictions were now needed.

Asked if Tier 4 measures in England were enough, the former Chief Scientific Adviser said: “It’s the Tier 4 restrictions, it’s obeying them. It is thinking about breaking essentially every possible route of transmission we possibly can.

“Those are the things that are absolutely necessary and it is pretty clear we’re going to need more,” he added.

Elsewhere, Tony Blair argued that the whole UK must be placed under a Covid-19 vaccination programme with a target of five million does a week.

The former Labour premier made the call as he urged ministers to change the UK’s strategy completely in tackling the virus.

Speaking on Times Radio, he insisted a goal should be set to increase vaccinations to five million per week. His comments came as a new document, A Plan for Vaccine Acceleration, was published by the Tony Blair Institute.

“Because of this new variant, we need to change our strategy completely in my view. And the paper we published today shows how we can get up to three million, we could get up to three million a week by the end of January, provided that the vaccines are available, and they should be.

“Not only Pfizer and AstraZeneca but possibly with the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine as well coming on stream. We should be aiming to get up to three, four, five million a week,” declared Mr Blair.

He went on: “We need to get the entire country under a vaccination programme very, very fast because right now as a result of this new variant, we’ve got a choice between severe lockdown or vaccination. But there isn’t another choice.”

Mr Blair also explained that until vaccination was “done at scale” across the population, then the UK would remain in a severe lockdown.

“If I was the prime minister right now, I would be saying to the team in Downing Street: ‘I need you to give me a plan to get this up to five million[vaccinations] a week,’ provided we’ve got the vaccine available and we should have them available. I mean AstraZeneca will, not this week or next week but the week after, be able to get up to two million doses a week, that’s just AstraZeneca.

“They could probably do more if they knew that the system was capable of absorbing the amount of vaccines that they would produce.”

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson is under mounting pressure to keep schools closed in England.

The PM urged parents to send their primary-age children back to schools that were due to open this week as he insisted he had “no doubt” classrooms were safe and that the risk to young people was “very, very small” amid calls from teaching unions to close all schools for the next two weeks.

He told Mr Marr: “Schools are safe. It is very, very important to stress that. I would advise all parents thinking about want to do, look at where your area is, overwhelmingly you’ll be in a part of the country where primary schools tomorrow will be open.”

On Saturday evening, the UK Government’s Education Department made clear remote learning was “a last resort” and classrooms should reopen “wherever possible” with appropriate safety measures to help mitigate the risk of transmission.

Amanda Spielman, the Ofsted Chief Inspector, said children’s education could not be put on “furlough” and that school closures should be kept to a minimum.

But Mary Bousted of the National Education Union argued schools should stay closed for two weeks to “break the chain” of transmission and prevent the NHS becoming “overwhelmed”.

In Scotland, Ms Sturgeon has said the “planning assumption” remains to open schools on January 18 but parents will be informed of any changes that may be necessary.

In Wales, unions have also called for the reopening of schools to be delayed. Last month, the Welsh Local Government Association said schools would use staggered returns for pupils with face-to-face learning expected to return for most by January 11 and a full return before January 18.

In Northern Ireland, First Minister Arlene Foster said remote learning for school children there should only be for a short period. Primary pupils are to be taught remotely for this week while for secondary school Years 8 to 11 remote learning is due to last for the entire month.