Covid-19: Tougher post-lockdown rules ‘strike a balance’, says PM

Boris Johnson

PA Media

Tougher rules for England will “strike a balance” when the national lockdown ends next week, Boris Johnson has said.

At a Downing Street briefing, the PM acknowledged that the stricter three-tiered system of regional measures to tackle coronavirus would bring “heartbreak and frustration”.

But he said “your tier is not your destiny” and stressed that “every area has the means of escape”.

Most of England will be in the toughest two levels of measures from 2 December.

The system will be reviewed every two weeks, with the first review scheduled for 16 December, so an area’s tier level may change before Christmas.

However, it means 55 million people will remain banned from mixing with other households indoors after the lockdown ends.

More than a third of England’s population, including large parts of the Midlands, North East and North West, as well as Kent, will be in the highest level – tier three.

And the majority of places are in the second highest level – tier two – including London, and Liverpool city region.

The Isle of Wight, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly – where there have been no recorded cases in the past week – will be the only areas of England in the lowest level of curbs – tier one.

The new tier restrictions will be voted on by MPs next week, with a revolt already brewing among the government’s own backbenchers.

Hospitality bosses have warned the sector will be “decimated” by the new tiers.

On Thursday, another 498 deaths within 28 days of a positive test were reported in the UK, and a further 17,555 positive cases, the latest figures showed.

Map showing the new three tier system in England before and after lockdown

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The prime minister said the new restrictions were necessary to keep the disease under control, and warned that easing off risked “losing control, casting aside our hard-won gains and forcing us back into a new year national lockdown”.

He said there was “no doubt the restrictions in all tiers are tough” but admitted previous tiers “were never quite enough”.

The new approach was “designed to reduce” the R number – the average number of people an infected person will pass the disease on to – “below one”, he added.

Mr Johnson said mass community testing would be offered to tier three areas “as quickly as possible” and hailed Liverpool City region as a “success story” where this approach had worked and brought the area down to tier two.

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England’s new tiers – reaction

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The BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg asked the PM to clarify “what was the point” of the second national lockdown if more people would now be facing tougher rules than they were before it began.

Mr Johnson insisted this was “not continuing the lockdown”.

“Across all tiers shops will be open, hairdressers, personal services will be open, gyms will be functioning, places of worship will be open for communal worship as well, so this is a very different thing,” he said.

The PM added: “And I’m convinced that by April things genuinely will be much, much better.”

Meanwhile, the UK government’s chief medical adviser Prof Chris Whitty and its chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance have warned against hugging and kissing elderly relatives this Christmas.

Speaking at the news conference, Prof Whitty said people’s behaviour at Christmas would “matter a great deal” this year.

“Would I encourage someone to hug and kiss elderly relatives? No, I would not,” he said.

“It’s not against the law. You can do it within the rules that are there, but it does not make sense because you could be carrying the virus.”

Sir Patrick echoed his remarks, saying “hugging elderly relatives is not something to go out and do” over the festive season.

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Differences between the new tiers include restrictions on where households can meet up:

  • tier one: the rule of six applies everywhere, indoors and out
  • tier two: the rule of six applies outdoors but there is no household mixing anywhere indoors
  • tier three: can only meet other households in outdoor public spaces like parks, where the rule of six applies

Gyms and close-contact beauty services like hairdressers will be able to open in all tiers. Guidance said people in all tiers who can work from home, should continue to do so.

Pubs in tier two can only open to serve “substantial meals”, while those in tier three can only operate as a takeaway or delivery service.

Decisions on tiers are based on public health recommendations informed by a series of public health data, including Covid-19 cases among the over-60s, positivity rates, pressure on the NHS and how quickly cases are rising or falling.

Devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have the power to set their own coronavirus regulations, though all four UK nations have agreed a joint plan for Christmas.

Earlier, data from the Office for National Statistics showed coronavirus infection rates in England were continuing to show signs of levelling off.

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