Shops could be shut under a Tier Four regime

It’s beginning to look a lot like lockdown: Shops could be shut and commuters ordered to work from home under a Tier Four regime to avoid a third national shutdown

  • Shops could shut and commuters to work from home under a Tier Four regime
  • The plans are being drawn up as a way of avoiding a third national lockdown
  • Officials alarmed by the deadly surge in virus cases since the second lockdown

Shops could be shut and commuters ordered to work from home under a draconian Tier Four Covid regime.

The plans are being drawn up as a way of avoiding a third national lockdown – but would contain curbs as tough as those seen in previous shutdowns.

Officials are alarmed by the deadly surge in virus cases since the second lockdown ended over a fortnight ago. Scientific advisers floated the idea of a fourth tier last month only for it to be rejected by ministers.

Boris Johnson (pictured in Bolton, Greater Manchester) was asked whether England would have to follow the lead of Wales and Northern Ireland, which have announced plans for lockdowns later this month

However a Government source last night told the Mail the proposal was back on the table. ‘The Department of Health is pulling out the folder marked Tier Four,’ the insider said. ‘We are not there yet but we are clearly in a worrying situation. It probably starts with closing non-essential retail and strengthening the work from home message.

‘But there are lots of things you could add to that – it’s still early days.’ Other sectors likely to be considered for closure in Tier Four include gyms, swimming pools and hairdressers.

Another 28,507 Covid cases were reported yesterday – the second highest total yet – along with 489 deaths, up from 424 a week earlier. As hospitals in virus hotspots started treating up to three times as many patients as in the first peak:

  • The R number for England jumped to between 1.1 and 1.3, up from 0.8 to 1.0 last week, meaning the epidemic is growing;
  • A worrying 65 per cent rise in infections was recorded among the over-70s;
  • A survey found half the country was planning a stay-at-home Christmas with only immediate family;
  • Parents, governors and retired teachers could be called on to administer coronavirus tests in schools next term;
  • A health minister admitted that mass testing was not an accurate way to screen the whole population;
  • Hospital bosses said NHS staff should be prioritised for vaccines;
  • Parents spoke of their agony at being banned from seeing their disabled children in care homes over the festive period.

A worrying 65 per cent rise in infections was recorded among the over-70s. Pictured: Ivy Smith, 97, having the Covid-19 vaccine at the William Harvey Hospital in Kent

During a visit to Bolton yesterday, Boris Johnson was asked whether England would have to follow the lead of Wales and Northern Ireland, which have announced plans for lockdowns later this month. He replied: ‘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.’

Schools minister Nick Gibb earlier insisted England’s tier system, which will see swathes of southern and eastern England move to Tier Three today, was ‘very effective’.

But he added ‘we rule nothing out’ when asked about the possibility of a national lockdown after Christmas.

Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford, who has ordered a third shutdown from December 28, yesterday suggested England was almost certain to follow. ‘They too will find themselves with numbers escalating and more action needing to be taken,’ he said.

Katherine Henderson, of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, urged ministers to do ‘whatever it takes to get the situation firmly under control so that we can vaccinate people and then move forward’.

Any attempt to impose a third lockdown will spark a major Tory backlash.

Thirty-four Conservative MPs voted against the second lockdown, while 54 voted against the tiers plan.

Former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith has warned a third lockdown would ‘never get past the party’. Former Cabinet minister Jake Berry said ministers were ‘governing via fear’ and needed to ‘inject hope again’.

He told the BBC’s Nick Robinson podcast his own Lancashire constituency had been in virtual lockdown since March with only ‘a tiny bit of time off for good behaviour’.

Mr Berry, chairman of the Northern Research Group of Tory MPs, said Mr Johnson had to ‘show us a route out of lockdown’ rather than imposing more restrictions.

Former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith has warned a third lockdown would ‘never get past the party’

Imperial College epidemiologist Neil Ferguson, whose modelling underpins Government decisions, yesterday said the last lockdown failed to halt the rise in cases.

He told Radio 4’s World at One: ‘In the East of England, case numbers were rising during the last lockdown, so there may be the need for additional controls even beyond those in place then.’

Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Sage scientific advisory group, said: ‘It doesn’t look like the tier system is holding the epidemic wave back, unfortunately. I think we are going to have to look at these measures and perhaps tighten them up.’

Office staff have already been advised to work from home where possible.

But ministers are considering strengthening this advice in the new year, with commuters advised only to travel to work where essential. Mr Johnson yesterday repeated his plea for families to limit Christmas gatherings.

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