The new national lockdown might not be enough to stop the spread of the mutant virus strain.
Scientists have warned that the message to "stay at home" will not work as effectively as it did last spring because it is far easier to catch the latest Covid-19 variant.
Boris Johnson responded to repeated calls for tougher measures to be imposed nationally on Monday night, as hospitals have become increasingly overwhelmed by the number of coronavirus patients.
Professor Mark Woolhouse described the new virus variant is a "game-changer" and its high transmissibility means the latest lockdown may not be as effective as the first, last March.
The professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh said: "The new variant is a game-changer and made the Prime Minister's announcement of a full national lockdown for England almost inevitable.
"Given the estimates of the transmissibility of the new variant, this lockdown may not be as effective as the one last March.
"It may be that the best we can hope for is that the situation does not deteriorate further."
Prof Woolhouse has urged the Government not to "just focus on lockdown" but to improve on its mass testing, better surveillance of cases, and provide adequate support for people required to self-isolate to maximise compliance with the "crucial intervention".
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Dr Jeremy Farrar, director of Wellcome, said: "Healthcare workers are working with unselfish and inspiring dedication, but the demand is overwhelming the capacity of what can be delivered by these amazing professionals.
"They must have all our support, meaning we all respect the restrictions, helping to reduce transmission of this awful virus, ultimately reducing hospitalisations and preventable deaths."
He added that it is important that Covid-19 vaccines are rolled out globally, warning: "Leave one country behind and we are all exposed to risk, and to life taking longer and longer to returning to anything like normal."
Professor Sir Gordon Duff of the University of Oxford, former co-chairman of the Government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said the lockdown is justified in a time of "national emergency".
He said: "The measures announced, although hard to endure, are justified. It was good to see the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition putting aside political differences in the best interests of all.
"There is no doubt that we face tough times, but vaccines will give us eventual victory."
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