Matt Hancock is set to unveil tougher Covid restrictions on Wednesday, following a “crunch meeting” last night where it is thought he, Boris Johnson and a team of scientists decided the areas of England that will move from tiers 2 and 3 to tier 4.
A number of northern areas and some parts of the Midlands, like Northampton, Leicester and parts of Lancashire, will almost certainly be promoted from their current tier 3 levels to tier 4.
What remains to be seen is whether the government will err on the side of caution and promote some regions currently in tier 2 straight to tier 4, to curb growing daily cases.
It comes after the government announced on Tuesday that the UK had recorded 53,153 new lab-confirmed daily Covid cases, making it the most in a 24-hour period since the pandemic began earlier this year. This as well as the news that of England’s 315 local areas, 238 (76 per cent) have seen a rise in case rates, 75 (24 per cent) have seen a fall, and two are unchanged.
The majority of, if not all, areas within the West Midlands “metropolitan county” - including Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton - are thought to be facing tier 4 restrictions. Cases in Birmingham reached 3,793 (332.1 per 100,000 people) in the seven days to Christmas Day, while the figure stood at 1,138 in Wolverhampton (432.1 per 100,000).
Similarly, Hartlepool in northeast England, along with some Lancashire regions - such as Blackburn with Darwen and Pendle - could be moved from tier 3 to tier 4. Blackburn with Darwen saw 519 cases (346.7 per 100,000), while Pendle saw 392 cases (425.6 per 100,000).
While the second batch of figures might sound significantly smaller than the first, it is worth remembering that the cities of Norwich and Oxford had 249 and 289 cases per 100,000 people respectively when they became two of several areas escalated to tier 4 on Boxing Day.
The government could surprise residents of areas like Cumbria and North Yorkshire by fast tracking them from tier 2 straight to tier 4. In Cumbria’s Eden district, for instance, cases reached 272 (510.8 per 100,000 people) - a rate higher than some areas already in tier 4.
Statistics for the most recent four days – 26-29 December – have been excluded from the government’s data as it is not yet complete and does not reflect the true number of cases.
Pressure has been mounting on ministers to expand tier 4 restrictions following the NHS announcement on Monday that the number of patients in English hospitals has surpassed the April peak of the first wave.
Medical experts from across the UK have now warned that the government must take urgent action to combat the new variant of coronavirus, which is 50 per cent more infectious than previous ones.
Andrew Hayward, a professor who sits on the government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday that national action was needed “to prevent a catastrophe in January and February”.
Prof Hayward also told The Independent that Britain needed “decisive, early, national action” from its ministers.
“A 50 per cent increase in transmissibility means that the previous levels of restrictions that worked before won’t work now and so tier 4 restrictions are likely necessary or even higher than that,” he said.
Residents from various UK regions have taken to social media to express their anguish at the thought of re-entering a national lockdown, or being being moved up to tighter restrictions.
One woman, from Burnley, wrote: “Ok peeps, we find out tomorrow if we’re going into tier 4 or national lockdown… (crying emoji)”, while one man said he was most concerned about gyms being closed in Wolverhampton. “Please don’t take gyms away from Wolverhampton residents if you’re moving us into tier 4,” he pleaded.
Other areas at risk of being put under tier 4 restrictions:
(Name of local authority, number of new cases in seven days to 25 December, rate of new cases per 100,000 people)
Havant, 609, 482.5
Burnley, 439, 493.7
South Northamptonshire, 358, 378.9
Oadby and Wigston, 214, 375.3
Lincoln, 365, 367.6
Carlisle, 392, 360.7
Ribble Valley, 218, 358
Sandwell, 1,156, 352
Solihull, 564, 260.7
Rugby, 364, 334.1
East Staffordshire, 397, 331.5
Leicester, 1,079, 304.6
Data source: https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/details/cases