BORIS Johnson today refused to rule out a third national lockdown after Christmas – and warned that the Covid infection rate was growing.
The PM said he "hoped" that England would not have to shut down once again – after Northern Ireland joined Wales in saying it would shut down from Boxing Day onwards.
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The PM said today when quizzed over whether England would face a third lockdown: "We're hoping very much that we will be able to avoid anything like that. But the reality is that the rates of infection have increased very much in the last few weeks."
Meanwhile, fears are growing that a possible Tier 4 might be needed in the worst-hit parts of England after Christmas – as cases rose in every area last week.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock is understood to be considering additional curbs, including closing non-essential shops if mass testing fails to make an impact, The Times reported.
A Whitehall official told the paper: “There is a case for going further than Tier 3 and it is getting stronger.
"[That could mean] closure of non-essential retail, stay-at-home orders.
"That would have to be actively considered in conversation with the local authority.”
Yesterday another five million people were plunged into harsher Tier rules, sparking fresh concerns that the system isn't working, just two weeks after it was reintroduced.
It came as:
- The ONS estimated around 567,300 people in England had COVID-19 last week compared to 481,500 the previous week
- Boris Johnson warned people to isolate from today if they wanted to see family at Christmas next week
- Despite England's four-week national lockdown ending only a fortnight ago, positive cases reached another 35,000 yesterday
- Just North Somerset, Bristol and Herefordshire went down a Tier, despite hopes that Manchester, Leeds and parts of Birmingham might be able to be moved thanks to a crackdown on their cases
- Matt Hancock warned everyone in Kent to act as if they had coronavirus and stay away from others
Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Peterborough, Hertfordshire, Surrey with the exception of Waverley, Hastings and Rother on the Kent border of East Sussex, and Portsmouth, Gosport and Havant in Hampshire will join most of the country in Tier 3 as of Saturday.
It means two-thirds of the country is now in the top Tier rules – with restrictions nearly matching another lockdown but with shops and no 'stay at home' order.
Mr Hancock has regularly encouraged rules to be stronger and has favoured tougher lockdown measures to save lives.
But he will be up against the Chancellor if he presses to close more shops, who is likely to demand they stay open to help the struggling economy.
No10 is understood to be waiting to give the existing Tiers system a chance to have an impact first before seeing whether any changes should be made.
Today minister Nick Gibb claimed that the Tier system IS working – despite millions more being shoved up a level.
Politicians lashed out at the claims today, as millions are now stuck in harsh restrictions.
And Christmas is expected to cause a spike in infections as many people are allowed to mix indoors for the first time in months.
Thankgiving in the US saw a similar rise in cases, which Professor Chris Whitty has said will lead to more deaths overall.
Clobbered businesses — particularly the hard-hit hospitality sector — warned of fresh job losses as a result as the fresh shutdowns.
The Tier 3 restrictions mean millions will miss out on going to the traditional Boxing Day races or football.
Nor will they be able to enjoy a Christmas drink down their local boozer as all pubs will shut.
Yesterday Downing Street refused to rule out a third lockdown after Christmas, and schools minister Nick Gibb could not either.
The PM’s spokesman said: “We’ve been clear of the rationale behind the tiered regional approach.
“That is designed to reduce the rate of transmission and reduce the R rate in areas of high prevalence.
“As we’ve said throughout, we will obviously keep the latest data and the latest trends under review.”
Asked if the whole of England was now headed to towards a national lockdown, Gibb told Sky News: "Nothing is ruled out of course as we tackle this pandemic but the test system is a very effective way… to focus the restrictions."
Northern Ireland is set to go into a six WEEK lockdown from Boxing Day, it was confirmed today.
In some of the harshest rules seen yet, supermarkets will be forced to close by 8pm.
Wales will also go into lockdown after Christmas, with shops shut, a stay at home order introduced, and people told not to mix.
Scotland hasn't ruled it out, but has not announced any plans yet.
HOLD BACK THE TIDE
Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Sage scientific advisory panel, said measures are likely to have to be tightened after Christmas as the system wasn't holding the pandemic in place.
He told Sky News: "At the moment it doesn't look like the tier system is holding the epidemic wave back, unfortunately.
"So I think we are going to have to look at these measures and perhaps tighten them up, we really will. It's a horrible thing to have to say but we are in quite a difficult position."
He also warned that “very stringent” measures may have to be imposed for a long time to bring the epidemic down to a “safe” level.
But Prof Edmunds added that while the relaxation of restrictions at Christmas is "probably not good for the epidemic", it is "probably good for people's wellbeing in other ways".
He said it was up to people to make their own choices over Christmas.
The Health Secretary said yesterday everyone in Kent must be extremely cautious.
The rate for the whole of Kent is a staggering 537.4 cases per 100,000 people, compared with 204.2 for England overall.
And 11 of the top worst affected areas in England are in Kent, too.
Mr Hancock said earlier this week that the new strain of coronavirus could be partly responsible for the virus appearing to spread incredibly quickly there.
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