Tougher Tier 4 lockdown measures could be extended to more parts of England from Boxing Day, a Cabinet Minister has warned.
The stricter measures may be necessary to contain the spread of a mutated strain of coronavirus, which is said to be 70 per cent more infectious than previous mutations.
Which areas could go into Tier 4?
The Cabinet’s Covid operations committee will meet today (23 December) to consider the latest data on the spread of the virus, after the UK recorded its highest daily increase in cases.
Reports suggest that local leaders and health officials met on Tuesday night to discuss the possibility of Birmingham being moved into a Tier 4 lockdown, while areas in lower tiers could be moved up to Tier 3.
Genomic researchers have found that the new Covid variant has already spread across the UK, with cases identified in Wales and Scotland, as well as the south of England.
Health chiefs in Cumbria have said the new variant is in the region and could be the reason it has seen sharp increases in new cases.
Lancashire’s director of public health said there is a “high likelihood” that the new variant is in the country.
‘May be necessary to take further action’
The tier levels currently in place in England are not due to be reviewed until 30 December, but the rising number of cases could now see this accelerated.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick acknowledged that “it may be necessary to take further action” to curb the rising case numbers, although he said there is “no immediate plan” to widen Covid restrictions on Boxing Day.
Speaking to Sky News, he said, “We don’t have a timetable for that. The government’s Covid operations committee is meeting later today to review further evidence.
“We keep this under review, we are constantly hearing from our scientific advisers about what we should do.”
The new variant is “very concerning” and is “prevalent probably in most regions of the country,” he acknowledged.
Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, has written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to say his party will back any government moves to tighten restrictions if that is what scientists recommend.
‘No changes’ to Christmas plans
Despite repeated warnings from scientists that relaxing lockdown restrictions on Christmas Day could lead to an increase in cases and, ultimately, deaths, Mr Jenrick said that “there will not be changes” to the current plans.
While the Christmas bubble plans have been dramatically scaled back from five days to just one, Mr Jenrick told Sky that the government will not hesitate to change the rules if they need to go further.
However, he later told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that there will not be changes to the Christmas arrangements.
He said, “We are not going to change people’s plans 24, 48 hours ahead of Christmas, but the strong advice is to keep it small, to keep it short and therefore to be safe.”