IN A statement to Parliament today Tory Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce a new three-tier lockdown system where each region in England is placed into a tier based on the severity of coronavirus cases in the area.
Yesterday afternoon, amid complaints by Tory backbench MPs that he has abandoned cabinet government and is increasingly ruling by decree, Johnson held a telephone meeting with ministers to update them on the steps he is announcing today.
The plans have already sparked opposition, with Labour MPs in Greater Manchester telling Johnson they would not support being placed under the harshest level of restrictions.
Across the UK, the R number – the average number of people each infected person passes the virus on to – is now estimated to be between 1.2 and 1.5. Anything above 1.0 means cases are increasing.
On Saturday, 15,166 people in the UK were reported to have tested positive for coronavirus – up 1,302 on Friday’s figure.
Professor Peter Horby, chair of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) and a government adviser, said the UK is at a ‘precarious point’ as Covid cases and hospital admissions continue to rise and that another national lock-down is possible.
He said the ‘critical mission’ now is to protect the NHS to avoid non-essential hospital services being cancelled, as many were when the UK went into its first nationwide lockdown in March.
‘We really need to provide care to everybody – those with Covid and those without,’ he said. ‘The way to do that is to keep the numbers down.’
He warned that some hospitals in the north of England are already coming under pressure and it might not be long before intensive care beds fill up.
‘I am afraid we are going to have to make some very difficult choices and act very quickly,’ he added.
Prof Horby told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that the country must accept more stringent measures to drive down transmission of the virus.
In an earlier statement, England’s deputy chief medical officer Prof Jonathan Van-Tam said the seasons are ‘against us’ and the country is running into a ‘headwind’ ahead of the winter months.
It is expected that parts of the north of England and the Midlands will be placed under tougher measures as part of the Prime Minister’s announcement.
Liverpool, where there are currently 600 cases per 100,000 people, is expected to be placed under the most severe set of restrictions, with all the city’s pubs forced to close.
Five Labour MPs in Greater Manchester have written to Johnson, arguing pre-emptively against being placed in tier three, which will have the harshest restrictions, and saying that in their constituencies, the virus is spreading among students and in private homes, and less so in the hospitality sector.