The Prime Minister set out a new three-tier system for local coronavirus restrictions in England through a statement in the House of Commons this afternoon. The aim of this system is to “simplify” local restrictions and clarify what the rules are in the areas they affect. The tiers are as follows:
o Tier 1 – Medium. This will cover most of the country and consist of the current national measures, including the “rule of six” and the closure of hospitality at 10pm.
o Tier 2 – High. This primarily aims to reduce household to household transmission by preventing indoor mixing of households. The “rule of six” will continue to apply outdoors. Many areas already subject to restrictions will automatically move into this level.
o Tier 3 – Very high. This will apply where transition rates are moving most rapidly and where the NHS could soon be under unbearable pressure. The Government will set a baseline in these areas for preventing social mixing indoors and in private gardens. Pubs and bars will be closed in these areas; there are reports that they will not have to close if they can operate as a restaurant i.e. serving alcohol will be banned unless it comes with a meal. Central Government will work with Local Government leaders in these areas on additional measures, possibly leading to further restrictions on hospitality, leisure, entertainment and personal care. Retail, schools and universities will remain open.
All restrictions will be kept under review, including a four-week “sunset” clause for interventions in very high areas. MPs will vote on these changes to restrictions tomorrow, with the measures coming into force on Wednesday. Local authorities in the Liverpool City Region will be the first to move into the “very high” alert level from Wednesday; gyms, leisure centres, betting shops and casinos will be forced to close in these areas in addition to the “baseline” Government restrictions.
The Government is currently working with other leaders in the North West, North East and Yorkshire and Humber to determine what local restrictions in these areas will be. The full list of which areas are in which tier is expected in the coming days. A postcode search on Gov.uk and the NHS Covid-19 app will show which local alert level applies in each area.
Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, emphasised in an interview this morning that if these new lockdown restrictions are successful and followed, then the virus could be under control by Christmas and areas will be taken out of high levels of restrictions. Jonathan Van Tam, England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, subsequently warned that the rise in cases is now nationwide and infections are “creeping up” into older, more vulnerable age groups.
Today’s statement followed the Chancellor’s announcement on Friday that any business forced to close due to local restrictions will receive financial support. This includes the Job Support Scheme, whereby the Government will pay two-thirds of employee salaries whilst their premises are closed, and enhanced cash grants, whereby closed businesses will be provided with up to £3,000 per month depending on the size of the business. This financial support for businesses will be in addition to extended Central Government support for local test and trace and enforcement of restrictions.
Further key points from the Prime Minister’s statement are as follows:
- The objectives are to save lives, protect the NHS, whilst keeping children in schools and keeping the economy running.
- There are more people in hospital with coronavirus compared to when the country went into lockdown on March 23rd and deaths are already rising.
- A full lockdown is not the right course. This would do damage to children’s education and damage the economy.
- If we let the virus rip, then we would suffer an intolerable death toll and put a huge strain on the NHS, causing serious long-term damage.
- Since June we have followed a balanced approach, to keep the R down and keep schools and the economy open.
- The current national R is between 1.2 and 1.5. This R is suppressed to below its natural level due to current restrictions, but we need to go further.
- Local authorities will receive £1bn in new financial support on top of the £3.6bn Towns Fund. Very high areas will receive further financial support for local test and trace. The armed forces will support local services if desired.
- Engagement with other leaders in the North West, North East and Yorkshire and Humber is continuing. These authorities should work with us on necessary measures in return for more local test and trace support and more local enforcement funding. It is hoped that rapid progress on this will be made in the coming days.
- Further guidance will be published for those that are extremely clinically vulnerable.
- The Government continues to work closely with the devolved nations.
- The weeks and months ahead will continue to be difficult, but together we will succeed.
In response to the statement, Leader of the Opposition, Keir Starmer, argued that the Government must provide the engagement and confidence that businesses needed. He also stated that:
He is “deeply sceptical” that the Government had a plan to get a grip of the virus, citing the ineffectiveness of some local measures brought in weeks ago.
The Prime Minister has not delivered on his commitment for all test results to be delivered in 24 hours – it currently stands at 24%.
Mayors and local council leaders need to be involved in discussions on further restrictions.
The Government must act quickly and decisively.
The Prime Minister will hold a press conference at 7pm this evening alongside the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, and the Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty, in which they are expected to take questions on the new restrictions.