PRIME minister Boris Johnson is to make a televised address tonight (January 4), setting out new emergency measures to control the spread of Covid-19 in England.

A Downing Street spokesman said that the move was in response to the "rapidly escalating" numbers of infections following the emergence of the new variant.

Johnson's statement, to be made at 8pm tonight, will be followed by the recall of Parliament on Wednesday so MPs can debate the measures.

The No 10 spokesman said: "The spread of the new variant of Covid-19 has led to rapidly escalating case numbers across the country.

"The prime minister is clear that further steps must now be taken to arrest this rise and to protect the NHS and save lives."

Much of England - including the Somerset council areas of Mendip, Sedgemoor, Somerset West & Taunton and South Somerset - has already been placed under the tightest Tier 4 restrictions as Covid-19 cases continue to rise, but there have been calls for a third national lockdown to be imposed.

The move comes as Nicola Sturgeon announced Scotland will go into lockdown for the rest of January, with a legal requirement to stay at home and schools closed to most pupils until February.

Setting out the measures to come into force from Tuesday, the first minister said: "It is no exaggeration to say that I am more concerned about the situation we face now than I have been at any time since March last year."

Earlier, during a visit to a vaccination centre in north London, Johnson acknowledged there was "no question" the further measures would be necessary, as cases continue to surge across the country.

The latest data show a 41 per cent rise in the number of confirmed Covid-19 patients in hospital in England between Christmas Day and January 3, figures which have caused alarm in Whitehall and the health service.

While ministers hailed the rollout of the new Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, Johnson warned the nation needed to prepare for some "tough" weeks ahead as the jab was extended to the most vulnerable.

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt called for immediate action to close schools, shut borders and ban household mixing, saying the situation was "off-the-scale worse" than previous winter crises faced by the NHS.

"In the face of exponential growth, even waiting an extra day causes many avoidable deaths, so these plans must now be urgently accelerated," he said.