Ministers “Can’t Rule Out” the Return of Tiered Lockdowns

Ministers have recently been treading very lightly when discussing the final stages of the “roadmap” out of lockdown. Matt Hancock said on Tuesday that the Government hasn’t ruled out ending the mask mandate on June 21st, adding that both the introduction of Covid vaccine passports and the continuation of “social” distancing beyond this date also remain on the table. The latest suggestion comes from the Environment Secretary George Eustice, who says we could see a return of tiered lockdown restrictions. When such a system was last imposed, 99% of the population in England lived under the toughest two tiers, with just 714,000 people living under “tier one” restrictions. Eustice now says that tiered restrictions could be used to combat “local outbreaks” of Covid in areas where people might have become “too lax” about the rules. MailOnline has the story.

Environment Secretary George Eustice revealed Number 10 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 34 areas across Britain where cases have spiked in the past fortnight and are now recording rates twice as high as the U.K. average.

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. 

Asked if local restrictions could be reimposed 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 21st as part of the final step in Number 10’s roadmap out of lockdown. Boris Johnson this week raised hopes that an end to Covid measures may be in 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. 

The average infection rate in the UK has fallen by 15% to 40.1 per 100,000 people in the fortnight up to May 4th, according to the 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 or people being a bit too lax about restrictions that are in place… but we are monitoring the situation closely.”

Worth reading in full.