The SAGE advisory group is expected to meet on Monday to develop a series of recommendations on how the level 3 restrictions could be tightened in light of the increased transmissibility of the new strain.
But according to reports in The Telegraph and The Sun, senior ministers met late Friday night to discuss the need for faster action.
Both newspapers suggest this could include travel restrictions imposed in the south-east and London, with a press conference announcing such measures could take place as early as Saturday. The government has yet to release a response to the reports.
It is understood that government science advisers see no evidence that the new strain causes more serious disease or is resistant to current vaccines.
However, there are fears that the announcement of effective vaccines in recent weeks has had a negative impact on compliance with rules, including self-isolation requirements.
A member of the scientific advisory committee told Sky News that England’s existing tier system does not appear to be effective in preventing the increase in the number of cases, and that stricter measures will be needed.
Professor John Edmunds said: “I think we’re going to have to look at these measures and maybe tighten them up, we really will. It’s a horrible thing to say, but we’re in a pretty difficult position. ”
The identification of the “new variant” of COVID-19[feminine[feminine – which is believed to be responsible for the faster spread in the southeast – was announced by Secretary of Health Matt Hancock this week.
More than 1,000 cases of the strain have been found, “mainly in the south of England,” Mr Hancock told the House of Commons.
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He said the new variant has spread faster than the existing strain of coronavirus and is believed to fuel the “very strong exponential increases” in cases in the Southeast.
But he sought to play down the fears, saying there was currently no evidence the new variant would not respond to COVID-19 vaccines being rolled out across the country.
And, he said, there was “currently nothing to suggest that this variant is more likely to cause serious illness.”
The Health Secretary said the rapid pace of the new spread could mean this variant becomes the most dominant nationally.
“The best way to describe it is to imagine a giant oak tree, then a small branch sticking out of that tree. Then that branch becomes the main trunk and the main artery of this tree, ”he explained.
He added that government scientists were studying the new variant at its facilities in Porton Down.
A spokesperson for the prime minister said he was unable to immediately comment on reports of a possible emergency tightening of restrictions.
Mr Johnson said on Friday he hoped England would not need to do a third lockdown after Christmas, as a number of experts have warned it is possible.