COVID-19: Hancock to reveal what tier different parts of England will be in

Millions of people are facing tough new COVID restrictions as the government brings in a tier system in England that for large parts of the country could be as strict as the national lockdown.

Boris Johnson is facing a potentially damaging rebellion by dozens of Conservative MPs who are bitterly opposed to their constituencies being placed under the harshest Tier 3 measures from next week.

The government has bowed to demands from senior Tory MPs for an impact assessment on the tier system and will publish an analysis of its health, economic and social impacts.

And in a move aimed at winning support from wavering MPs, the prime minister is promising that the tier allocations being announced by Mr Hancock will be reviewed on Wednesday 16 December.

This means areas where the spread of the disease slows down in the next few weeks could be moved down a tier for a week before the suspension of restrictions for Christmas on 23 December.

The prime minister could also be hit by a furious backlash from senior local government leaders including London mayor Sadiq Khan and Greater Manchester’s Andy Burnham if their cities are put in Tier 3.

But to soften the blow, the government is promising that areas in the top tier will be able to receive rapid-result COVID-19 tests, with the Army helping out, to help bring down infections, as well as cash subsidies.

Ministers on the government’s COVID Operations Committee held a late-evening meeting to decide which tiers all parts of England will be under, ahead of an announcement by Health Secretary Matt Hancock in the Commons.

After the meeting, attended by Mr Johnson, Mr Hancock, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and Treasury minister John Glen, deputising for Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Sky sources suggested London is likely to be in Tier 2.

Mr Khan, speaking to Sky News about which tier the capital would be placed under when Mr Hancock makes his statement, said: “All the roads lead to Tier 2.”

According to Conservative MPs, there was also a strong hint from the prime minister that Liverpool – previously in Tier 3 – will be in Tier 2 this time, while Greater Manchester could be placed in Tier 3.

Mr Johnson told Tory MPs in a Zoom call with the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers that Liverpool’s mass testing meant they were doing “much better than Manchester”.

Earlier, speaking at a news conference, Mr Burnham said that it was “more likely than not” that Greater Manchester would be made subject to Tier 3 restrictions.

Ahead of his statement, Mr Hancock said: “Thanks to the hard work and sacrifice made by people up and down the country, we are able to move out of national lockdown and into more targeted local, tiered restrictions.

“I know for those of you faced with Tier 3 restrictions this will be a particularly difficult time but I want to reassure you that we’ll be supporting your areas with mass community testing and extra funding.

“By following the rules together we can get out of these tough measures.”

Mr Hancock is expected to set out the tier which each local authority in England will fall under, in line with the measures set out in the prime minister’s COVID-19 Winter Plan published on Monday.

The tiers have been toughened since they were previously in force from 14 October – 5 November and many more areas will be placed into the higher tiers in a bid to keep infection rates down.

The government says the decisions on tiers have been made by ministers based on recommendations by government scientists and medics, taking into account:

  • Infection rates in all age groups and in particular among the over 60s
  • How quickly case rates are rising or falling
  • The number of cases per 100,000 in the general population
  • Pressure on the NHS – including current and projected NHS capacity – including admissions, bed occupancy and staff absences
  • Local factors and exceptional circumstances such as a local but contained outbreak

As well as rapid testing, in a move aimed at containing opposition from local government leaders, the government is also promising extra cash for areas placed in Tier 2 and Tier 3.

The Contain Outbreak Management Fund will be extended so that it can provide monthly payments to local authorities facing higher restrictions until the end of the financial year, in recognition of the ongoing public health and outbreak management costs of tackling COVID-19.

For those authorities in Tier 3, this funding will amount to £4 per head of population per month, and for those in Tier 2, it will amount to £2 per head of population per month.

Speaking to Sky News, Mr Khan rejected calls from Conservative MPs from the capital’s suburbs for parts of London with low infection rates to be put in a lower tier.

“We only have one Metropolitan Police service to do enforcement,” he said. “You can’t have different enforcement rules for different parts of the borough.

“We only have one Transport for London service in different parts of the borough – the buses, the tubes, the trams, the Overground.

“As disappointed as I am, we don’t make the criteria for Tier 1, as much as I’d like to do so, but also it is quite clear that we’re nowhere near Tier 3.”

Earlier, at his news conference, Mr Burnham said: “We don’t know what tier we will be in, that still has not been communicated to us. I think it is fair to say we are heading at some speed to Tier 3 – Tier 2 borderline – given the figures.

“Tier 3, in my view, is too punishing on hospitality and will be too hard on city centres, particularly as we go through Christmas and the New Year period.’

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