London   -  British Prime Minister Boris Johnson convened his cabinet on Saturday to decide whether to impose a new lockdown across England within days, following warnings his localised restrictions strategy has failed to curb soaring coronavirus cases. Johnson held a lunchtime meeting of his ministerial team to finalise stringent new nationwide rules, which will reportedly close all but “essential” stores while keeping schools, colleges and universities open. He is expected to make an announcement from Downing Street later Saturday.

The measures could come into effect as early as Wednesday and last until December 1, although no final decisions have yet been reached, The Times daily said.  The prospect of another nationwide lockdown comes after top scientific advisers warned that the virus was spreading significantly faster than their most dire predictions.

Documents released Friday from an October 8 meeting of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) included warnings that infections and hospitalisations were “exceeding the reasonable worst-case scenario planning levels”.

The worst-case scenario, made in July, had predicted 85,000 more people could die during the winter wave of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, in its weekly study of Covid-19 prevalence also published Friday, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said it “continued to rise steeply”, with the number of people infected increasing to around one in 100 nationwide. Britain is among the hardest hit countries in Europe, with more than 46,000 people dying within 28 days of testing positive and the country set to cross the one million case threshold on Saturday.

Some European countries and the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have already reimposed partial lockdowns to try to cut their surging rates.