Is England heading for a new year lockdown? That's the suggestion in several papers today after chief scientific officer Patrick Vallance used a government press conference on Monday to declare that measures would likely 'need to be increased' in areas not currently under Tier 4. This comes after Matt Hancock suggested those parts of England currently facing the toughest restrictions — London and the South East — could remain under restrictions for months to come until the vaccine has been sufficiently rolled out. Now conversation in government has turned to which areas will join them.
As things stand, 16.4 million people are in Tier 4, 19.7 million in Tier 3, 16.1 million in Tier 2 and 856,000 in Tier 1 — the lightest restrictions. These tiers will be reviewed at the end of the month and Johnson is under growing pressure from government scientific advisers to consider national measures. That's the trend elsewhere in the UK, Wales is already in lockdown, all of mainland Scotland will enter its toughest tier — Level 4 — on Boxing Day while Northern Ireland is also expected to go into lockdown then.
Even before Johnson gave a press conference changing the Christmas rules and announcing details of the mutant strain, ministers were privately suggesting a third national lockdown could happen before we get to the spring. Concern over the new strain's spread across the country means that this is now seen as increasingly likely.
A sign of how this new Covid strain has changed the Prime Minister's thinking could be found in Monday's press conference. After spending the summer insisting schools must be kept open, Johnson wouldn't guarantee that the reopening of schools would go ahead as planned. If fears over a country-wide spread are confirmed then whether or not the government calls it a national lockdown, Tier 4 will soon be the tier that the majority of people are living under.