Boris Johnson has announced new coronavirus restrictions that could last for six months in a dramatic gamble to save both lives and the economy.
The tortured Prime Minister warned the country had reached a “perilous turning point” after new cases of the disease soared.
But he has taken a huge punt over his decision to impose some new curbs - but not go as far as other parts of the UK.
The PM staged yet another u-turn by telling staff to work from home, just weeks after urging to return to the office.
He confirmed a 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants, tightened up the Rule of Six and announced the wider use of facemasks.
At the same time, Mr Johnson announced tougher enforcement and a doubling of fines to £200 for those flouting the rules.
He even suggested the Army could be brought in to free up police to enforce coronavirus laws.
More than 13 million people across huge swathes of the North, the Midlands and Wales are already living with tougher local restrictions.
Daily Covid cases shot up again yesterday to 4,926, the highest UK figure since early May, and another 37 people died.
Mr Johnson has spent days locked in No 10 pouring over his options as the two sides of the argument battled it out.
His scientific advisors suggested they wanted him to go further when they set out their grave concerns about the winter ahead on Monday.
But more hawkish ministers and Tory MPs, along with Tory donors, have urged the PM to protect the economy.
The division at the heart of Government over the way forward was reflected across the country.
A survey by Ipsos MORI showed opinion was split on a second total national lockdown, with 44% in favour to control the pandemic, and 34% against.
Labour leader Keir Starmer warned another national lockdown would be “a Government failure - not an act of God” which would take a huge toll on the public.
Announcing the measures, an anguished Mr Johnson said he had reached a “delicate balance” with a plan that would inflict “minimum damage to lives and livelihoods”.
But there are fears within Government, despite their careful compromise, that the deadly virus could end up doing both.
However, the PM prompted anger when he appeared to once again blame the public for soaring rates regardless of the Government’s poor handling of the crisis.
In a televised address to the nation, he said: “While the vast majority have complied with the rules there have been too many breaches”.
He added: “Never in our history has our collective destiny and our collective health depended so completely on our individual behaviour.”
The PM claimed he was “deeply, spiritually reluctant” to bring in the changes but urged the public to stick to the rules.
“To those who say we don’t need this stuff, and we should leave people to take their own risks, I say these risks are not our own,” he said.
“The tragic reality of having Covid is that your mild cough can be someone else’s death knell.”
Earlier in the Commons, Mr Johnson told MPs the new curbs would continue over Christmas and New Year unless the virus came under control.
“We should assume that the restrictions that I have announced will remain in place for perhaps six months,” he said.
And he warned MPs he would “deploy greater firepower” with tougher restrictions if the public failed to follow the rules.
Mr Starmer said he would back the new measures but accused the Government of having “no clear strategy”.
He blasted: “One day people are encouraged to work in the office, today they’re told the opposite.
“The Government must lead and it must do so fast. This is a time of national crisis but we need clear leadership.”
Government scientists have warned that failing to act now could lead to thousands more daily cases - and inevitably more deaths.
Millions of people across the country are already subject to tougher restrictions including a ban on two or more households meeting.
Families in Lancashire, Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester and Newcastle are among those already forbidden from meeting people they don’t live with.
But Mr Johnson stopped short of extending the draconian rule across the rest of England - despite warnings from his chief medical officer to “break unnecessary links”.
In contrast, Scotland and Northern Ireland have joined Wales in banning households from socialising together indoors.
No 10 plans to extend local lockdown measures in the event of further outbreaks instead.
But Professor Sir Ian Diamond, National Statistician and SAGE attendee, told MPs the Covid spread was no longer restricted to local outbreaks.
“At the moment we have in England a largely national pandemic, but one which is concentrated in urban areas,” he said.
Medical chiefs warned the measures did not go far enough to prevent a second wave.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association, said: “It’s encouraging that the Government has, at last, recognised the need for more stringent measures to control the virus’s spread. But there are a number of further actions which the Government could take to prevent a second peak."
These included wearing facemasks in workplaces, communicating local infection rates and banning households from meeting.
Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, suggested the restrictions did not go far enough to reverse the increase in cases.
“It is doubtful that the measures currently being enacted will be sufficient to reduce the R value to below one much before this side of Christmas,” he said.
However, business chiefs warned that a second national lockdown would inflict huge damage on jobs and businesses.
Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the CBI, said: "A second national lockdown would be devastating for our economy, so it's right to prioritise bringing infections under control.
"It is vital that all announcements of restrictions go hand in hand with clarity on the business support that protects jobs."
Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said small firms and the self-employed will be "dismayed" at another six months of restrictions.
In his TV statement, Mr Johnson rejected calls to “lock up” the elderly and vulnerable so the rest of the population could carry on as normal.
“With all the suffering that would entail – I must tell you that this is just not realistic, because if you let the virus rip through the rest of the population it would inevitably find its way through to the elderly as well, and in much greater numbers,” he warned.
Earlier, he told MPs that Government guidance was that over two million people that shielded last time did not need to yet.
He said the exception was in local lockdown areas even though shielding is only continued in a tiny fraction of them.
MPs, including Tories, were also surprised when the PM claimed the failing test and trace system was not partly responsible for the rise in cases.
The system, if working properly, should help officials track the spread of the disease, so keeping it under control.
Under the new measures, millions of people were told to work from home if they were able.
He stressed this was not a “general instruction to stay at home” as key public services and sectors like hospitality, retail and manufacturing should still go in.
The Government has also scrapped its failed attempt to get 80% of Whitehall civil servants back in the office by the end of this month.
Around 13.8m workers are thought to be back at work across the UK, although that includes all workers not just those in offices.
Many of those will now work from home.
Pubs, bars and restaurants will close at 10pm from Thursday and must operate table service only, apart from takeaways.
However, theatres and cinemas will be able to run over.
Mr Johnson said the measure would have an impact on the disease - despite only knocking an hour off opening times.
“The spread of the disease does tend to happen later at night after more alcohol has been consumed,” he said.
But as the Rule of Six stays in place there is nothing to stop punters carrying on drinking at home with friends.
However, the exemptions to the rule - which bans gatherings of more than six people - will be tightened.
Indoor team sports, such as five-aside football, will be banned from tomorrow, along with indoor grassroots sport and amateur performing arts groups and choirs.
And the number allowed to attend weddings will be reduced from 30 to 15, from Monday, but not funerals.
Plans for fans to return to watch live sport events at stadiums in England from October, as well as large business events, have been shelved.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden yesterday called sporting bodies, including for football, rugby, cricket, Formula 1 and horse-racing.
Face coverings will now be required for taxi passengers as well as retail staff and hospitality customers, except when sitting down to eat or drink.
There will be tougher enforcement for those that “brazenly defy” the rules, including £10,000 for businesses and the threat of closure.
The penalty for failing to wear a mask or breaking the Rule of Six will double to £200 for a first offence.
Five hundred soldiers, currently on standby, would guard sites such as Downing Street, Parliament and nuclear plants, to free up police responding to coronavirus calls.
But Martin Hewitt, chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said the support would not be needed.
Ministers are coming under fresh pressure to provide more support for businesses as well as employees are unable to work going into the winter.
Mr Johnson has already ruled out extending the furlough scheme beyond October but Chancellor Rishi Sunak has hinted at a replacement.
More than 10% of workers are still on the jobs support scheme, which finishes at the end of October.
The PM also hinted that there could be another rescue package on its way for the arts, culture and sports after the latest restrictions.
It came as Department for Education figures revealed that almost 900 state schools in England have not fully open because of Covid, with the number of schools badly affected quadrupling in the space of a week.