Tiers are here to stay until vaccine rollout, says minister
England’s three-tier system is designed to stay in place until a vaccine becomes available to the general population, housing minister Robert Jenrick said this morning.
“The point of the tiered approach is, can we get tiers that are sufficiently robust to steer the country through the last few months before we manage to get the vaccine programme rolled out,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
England’s month-long national lockdown will be replaced with a “toughened up” three-tier system on 2 December.
Health secretary Matt Hancock’s announcement yesterday that 99 per cent of the country’s population will be placed under the top two tiers of restrictions was met with stiff backlash from MPs and local business leaders.
London will join regions such as Liverpool and Suffolk on “high alert” on 2 December, while Manchester, Lancashire, Blackpool, Kent and Birmingham will enter Tier 3.
Just three regions — the Isle of Wight, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly — will enter Tier 1.
The Prime Minister is facing a Tory rebellion on the decision from more than 70 MPs who claim the new tier system is “authoritarian” and “unfair”.
The Covid Recovery Group, made up of lockdown-sceptic Tory backbenchers, is said to be brewing a revolt ahead of a parliamentary vote on the tiers next week.
Boris Johnson told a Downing Street press conference yesterday there was “reason to hope” that the “era of restrictions” could end in the spring, but the tiers were needed to “navigate a hard winter when the burden on our NHS is heaviest.”
Speaking today, Jenrick added that there was a chance some regions could see restrictions soften ahead of the Christmas period.
“There will be a review on or around 16 December. At that point we will review the evidence against those five tests for every local authority area in the country,” he said.
“There are a number of places which are quite finely balanced in the country today where there was a strong case to be in a tier one degree lower than where they ended up, but on a balanced judgment they are in a tier up.”
Hancock said it was a “close call” on whether to place London in Tier 2 or Tier 3 — the highest level of restrictions — and warned that it could easily move to the top tier.
“‘There is a lot of work to do in London to keep it in Tier 2,” the health secretary told MPs.
Coronavirus cases are currently falling in two-thirds of London boroughs, according to the latest official figures.
The capital’s seven-day rate has now fallen from 199.6 cases per 100,000 on 15 November to 181.8 on 20 November.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said placing London in Tier 2 was the “right decision” for the moment, but cautioned against “complacency”.
“We know how quickly this virus can spread and we all need to keep playing our part and drive numbers down further across our city.”