Government minister hints tiered lockdowns are still on the cards

Could parts of England could be held back from freedom on June 21? Minister hints tiered lockdowns are still on the cards amid rise of Covid hotspots in the North

  • Environment Secretary George Eustice revealed No10 was ‘closely monitoring’ several localised outbreaks
  • Analysis shows national infections have continued to fall but 12 boroughs have seen cases double in a week
  • Local lockdowns implemented across England last year were roundly criticised for being too confusing 

A Government minister today refused to rule out tiered lockdowns returning when England’s national measures are planned to end next month. 

Environment Secretary George Eustice revealed No10 was ‘closely monitoring’ several localised coronavirus outbreaks that have cropped up in recent weeks.

Analysis shows that while national infections have continued to plunge, there are 12 boroughs where cases have doubled in a week.

Mr Eustice said scientists were unsure what was driving the flare-ups — predominantly in the North of England — but suggested people may have become ‘too lax’ with Covid rules, or the highly-infectious Indian variant could be driving cases. 

Scotland has already refused to ease restrictions in Moray when the rest of the nation takes the next step to freedom on Monday because of the area’s growing outbreak.

Asked if local restrictions could be reimposed in England to squash local outbreaks during a round of interviews today, he said: ‘We can’t rule anything out.’ 

He told Sky News: ‘But our plan that’s been set out by the Prime Minister, the reason we’re being incredibly cautious about exiting lockdown, is we want this to be the last. We want to try and avoid having to get into a tiered system and regionalisation. We tried that last autumn, we know that in the end we had to go for a full lockdown.’

Most social distancing restrictions in England are to be lifted on June 21 as part of the final step in No10’s roadmap out of lockdown. Boris Johnson this week raised hopes that an end to Covid measures may be sight, suggesting social distancing could be scrapped completely by next month. 

The tiered system last summer was heavily criticised for being too convoluted, with people in neighbouring streets often living by a completely different set of rules.

The Prime Minister himself admitted they were ‘confusing’ as he struggled to explain the difference between restrictions imposed in the North East in September. 

Scotland yesterday held back Moray from lockdown easing plans, stopping the borough from being allowed to enjoy extra freedoms from Monday.

But two parts of England currently have bigger coronavirus outbreaks than Moray: Erewash in Derbyshire (187.2) and Bolton (133.5). 

Erewash has seen cases rise by around 10-fold in the space of a week, according to Department of Health statistics.

Health chiefs in the Midlands say Erewash’s spike in cases is down to a cluster of infections at a secondary school in Long Eaton. 

Derbyshire’s director of public health Dean Wallace warned the Covid figures looked so bad because infection rates were so low, meaning ‘any increase’ can skew the figures.

But he said it was a ‘timely reminder that Covid hasn’t gone away’ and urged the borough’s 115,000 residents to ‘use their judgement to keep everyone safe’ when restrictions are eased on Monday. 

Bolton is also being hit by an increase in coronavirus cases, which experts fear may be linked to the spread of the highly-infectious Indian variant.

Officials have ordered surge testing in the Greater Manchester borough to flush out cases of the mutant B.1.617.2 strain.

Testing data shows it makes up around half of all cases spotted in Bolton. But other experts monitoring the outbreak say the true figure could be closer to 70 per cent.

Infection rates have also spiralled in other parts of the nation, with 12 boroughs having seen cases double over the same time period.

After Erewash, Fylde saw the biggest week-on-week increase in Covid cases (184 per cent) — but, overall, the Lancashire borough’s outbreak remains tiny. Just 17 positive tests were spotted in the week ending May 6.

In other coronavirus developments today: 

Spain will not demand any British holidaymaker presents a covid passport or proof of a negative test on arrival from May 20;

The Indian Covid variant that is surging in Britain could spread up to 60 per cent faster than the dominant Kent strain, a scientist claimed;

The average infection rate in the UK has fallen by 15 per cent to 40.1 per 100,000 people in the fortnight up to May 4, according to latest statistics.

But analysis shows that 28 local authorities in England, four in Scotland and two in Northern Ireland are recording double the national case rate.

Quizzed about the hotspots this morning, Mr Eustice told Sky News: ‘We are not sure what could be driving it, whether it’s particular variants that have taken hold of people being a bit too lax about restrictions that are in place. 

‘We are not sure about that but we are monitoring the situation closely.’

Asked if it meant restrictions could be imposed, he said: ‘We can’t rule anything out. We want this to be the last (lockdown) and want to avoid going back into a tiered system.

‘We know that in the end, we had to go for full lockdown.’ 

On local lockdowns, he added: ‘We tried that last autumn, we know that in the end we had to go for a full lockdown.’ 

‘We’ve got our confidence now in the vaccination programme, that’s rolling out and that is delivering… 

‘It is also reducing transmission rates as well as reducing hospitalisations and mortality. ‘That’s got to be our focus.’

Scotland yesterday became the first home nation to impose a de facto local lockdown, holding back Moray from being allowed to enjoy extra freedoms from Monday.  

But two parts of England currently have bigger coronavirus outbreaks than Moray: Erewash in Derbyshire (187.2) and Bolton (133.5) in Greater Manchester.

Erewash has seen cases rise by around 10-fold in the space of a week, according to Department of Health statistics.

Health chiefs in the Midlands say Erewash’s spike in cases is down to a cluster of infections at a secondary school in Long Eaton. 

Derbyshire’s director of public health Dean Wallace warned the Covid figures looked so bad because infection rates were so low, meaning ‘any increase’ can skew the figures.

But he said it was a ‘timely reminder that Covid hasn’t gone away’ and urged the borough’s 115,000 residents to ‘use their judgement to keep everyone safe’ when restrictions are eased on Monday. 

Environment secretary George Eustice revealed No10 was ‘closely monitoring’ several localised coronavirus outbreaks that have cropped up in recent weeks

There is concern that the Indian Covid variant spreading rapidly in the UK could be behind some of the sharp increases seen elsewhere.

The mayor of Greater Manchester has urged the Government to fast-track every adult in the region for a Covid vaccine to stop the spread of the strain there.

Andy Burnham has made the public request following a spike of cases in Bolton among the under-25s which has seen cases double in a week. 

Officials have already ordered surge testing in the Greater Manchester borough to flush out cases of the mutant B.1.617.2 strain.

Testing data shows it makes up around half of all cases spotted in Bolton. But other experts monitoring the outbreak say the true figure could be closer to 70 per cent.

Currently the vaccination programme is only open to people over 40, but sources say the scheme will be expanded to under-30s later this week. 

The original tiers system was designed to contain Covid outbreaks within regions and bring them back under control.

But critics said the restrictions had little effect, with large swathes of the North remaining under virtual lockdown for months on end.

Eventually, the tiers also failed to halt the revival of the virus across the country. Even Cornwall, which was the only significant area in Tier One at one point, eventually succumbed.

Local officials blamed the tiers system for outbreaks in the area, with the director of public health saying a 120 per cent rise in case numbers was ‘directly related to the relaxing of the restrictions that we had under Tier One in early December.’

The tiers system also proved politically toxic, with Tories in so-called Red Wall seats in the North complaining that it fuelled perceptions that ministers did not care about the North-South divide. 

Ministers clashed with Mr Burnham amid claims the North was being locked down to protect the South. 

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