Prime Minister Boris Johnson has refused to rule out a third England lockdown after Christmas, saying the rates of Covid infection have increased very much in the last few weeks.

Speaking in Manchester Mr Johnson said he was hoping to avoid it but the warning signs were there, adding: “But the reality is that the rates of infection have increased very much in the last few weeks.”

The suggestion of a 3rd lockdown comes as a six-week lockdown was announced in Northern Ireland from 26 December.

Wales will also begin a lockdown on 28 December, while the Scottish government will review their situation next week.

The Prime Minister urged people to avoid spreading coronavirus over Christmas and to think carefully about their plans.

Mr Johnson said: “What we’re saying to people now over this Christmas period is think of those rules about the three households that you can bubble up with, the five days. That is very much a maximum – that’s not a target people should aim for.

“I think people really get this, people do get this, all the evidence I’m seeing, people really understand this is the time to look after, to think about, our elderly relatives, avoid spreading the disease.

“Keep it short, keep it small, have yourselves a very little Christmas as I said the other night – that is, I’m afraid, the way through this year.

His comments come as the government advisers at SAGE are reporting the R number in the UK is estimated to have gone up to between 1.1 and 1.2.

The growth of COVID-19 is estimated to be between 1% and 4%.

Last week, the number was put at 0.9-1.0, with a growth rate of -2% to 0% per day.