Boris Johnson was warned by Number 10 aides that plans had been made to use ice rinks as emergency mortuaries as the Cabinet debated another lockdown, reports say.
It was one of the grim details that helped seal the Prime Minister’s decision to give England much more severe restrictions come Thursday.
Michael Gove told Sky News the moral and medical consequences of failing to lock down would have been “impossible to accept” and would mean “more pain and more death”.
The Cabinet was shown stark data saying the NHS would be overwhelmed before Christmas if the rate of coronavirus infections were to continue to rise.
Speaking about the meeting, one official told the Daily Mail : “I could have wept – it was so awful.”
They added: “The PM was given hard facts about real people in hospital beds, and the debate was effectively over. He was told how many hospitalisations were already baked-in to the projections due to the steep rise in infections.”
Ministers were told that, on the virus’s current trajectory, SAGE group SPI-M assessed that the NHS will surpass its fixed and surge bed capacity in the first week of December.
This surge capacity would include the Nightingale hospitals, reallocated resources, and the cancelling of other elective surgery.
And there were plans to store dead bodies in municipal ice rinks if hospital mortuaries filled up.
Ministers were told the virus is actually growing quicker in some areas that are so far less badly hit.
The South West could be where the North West is today by November 27, according to SPI-M estimates.
Ministers were told the South East’s ‘doubling time’ for the virus is now faster than the North West, and the East Midlands and West Midlands have the fastest doubling times in the country.
They were also shown Office for National Statistics estimates that an average of 568,100 (1 in 100 in England) have Covid-19, compared to 1 in 2,300 in July.
Ministers were told the growth in the virus is national, and while the prevalence is worse in parts of the north, the R is above 1 everywhere.
The Prime Minister made a Saturday night statement to the nation to tell them that England would be place in its second lockdown more than a month after his scientific experts called for a time-limited shutdown.
SAGE called for a two- or three-week circuit breaker on September 21 to reverse spiralling virus rates.
But Boris Johnson repeatedly refused the plea – instead going for a three-tier local restrictions system.
And now the government’s advisors now believe it is too late for a two-week shutdown to make enough difference.
Instead the new lockdown will last four weeks – from 12.01am on Thursday 5 November to Wednesday 2 December.
The announcement was brought forward after key elements of it leaked to three national newspapers.
Crisis talks with the Cabinet were told without drastic action, the NHS would be totally overwhelmed before Christmas.
The new lockdown will be similar to the rules which covered England for months from the end of March.
The biggest difference is schools and other educational settings are being told to remain open.
The second-biggest difference is that this one has a set cut-off date of December 2.
People are being encouraged to keep going to work if they cannot work from home; including in construction and manufacturing.
In another big difference, people will be told to continue using the NHS for non-Covid health care. The idea of this lockdown is to prevent the NHS having to once again stop routine care.