Up to two thirds of England could be living under the toughest coronavirus restrictions this week, with “sizeable chunks” of the Midlands and the North expected to be put into Tier 4.
By Amy Jones, Political Correspondent www.telegraph.co.uk
Whitehall sources suggested millions more people would fall under the toughest rules when area banding is reviewed on Wednesday.
The Government has not ruled out tougher new “Tier 5” restrictions, which could close schools and universities, or the prospect of a new national lockdown in January. However, a Whitehall source said that in the “immediate future” the expansion of Tier 4 was more likely.
A health official said: “Coronavirus cases are rising across the country fuelled by the new variant, which has spread far beyond London and the South-East.
“I would expect more than half of England to move into Tier 4, but it wouldn’t surprise me if two thirds end up in the top tier. There is also real concern about the South African variant which seems to be spreading fast. Unfortunately, more action is needed to combat rising cases across the board.”
More than six million people in east and south-east England went into the highest level of restrictions on Saturday. The Tier 4 measures now affect 24 million people, representing 43 per cent of the population.
On Monday, the Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove failed to dismiss the suggestion that the whole of England could be moved into Tier 4, saying: “We review which tiers parts of the country should be in on the basis of scientific evidence.
“The Joint Biosecurity Centre will be making a recommendation to ministers, but I can’t pre-empt that because it obviously has to be a judgment based on the medical situation. The NHS is under pressure and these are difficult months ahead.”
It comes after the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) warned Boris Johnson that a New Year national lockdown would need to be tougher than that ordered in November in order to keep the virus spread under control.
The Black Country is understood to be an area of particular concern, with Wolverhampton driving up infection rates in Staffordshire.
The latest figures show that the West Midlands city has a case rate of 407.8 per 100,000 of the population, while cases have also been rising in Stoke-on-Trent, Rugby and Lincoln.
Meanwhile, Cumbria could jump from Tier 2 to Tier 4 as rates in the county soar. Lancashire could also move up a tier after the areas of Pendle and Burnley saw “alarming” rises.
On Monday, the Government reported a further 41,385 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK, while a further 357 people died within 28 days of testing positive.
Dr Yvonne Doyle, the medical director at PHE, said: “This very high level of infection is of growing concern at a time when our hospitals are at their most vulnerable, with new admissions rising in many regions.”
Experts have warned that the NHS is on track to have 20,000 coronavirus patients in its care on New Year’s Eve, surpassing April’s peak for cases in hospital.
Saffron Cordery, the deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “We know that the rate of Covid-19 admissions is rising and some trusts are reporting up to three times the number of Covid patients than at the peak of the first wave.
“This means hospitals and also ambulance services in Tier 4 areas and beyond are incredibly busy, compounded by increasing staff absences due to illness and the need to self-isolate.”
Dr Katherine Henderson, the president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, described her experience of working in a hospital on Christmas Day as one of “wall-to-wall Covid”.