The UK has recorded a further 12,155 coronavirus cases, marking a 34 per cent drop on last Sunday’s total.
In a positive sign that England’s second nation-wide lockdown slowed the country’s spiraling infection rate, the number of positive tests recorded today shaves more than a third off the 18,662 reported this time last week.
Official figures released today have also revealed 398 more coronavirus deaths – 46 per cent fewer than the 215 seen last Sunday.
Today’s figures come as Dominic Raab admitted there is a ‘risk’ of a third wave of coronavirus infections in the New Year if ministers ‘don’t get the balance right’ on tiered restrictions.
The Foreign Secretary said the Government is ‘doing everything we can to avoid’ a third national shutdown but failed to rule it out as he defended the decision to plunge the majority of the nation into the top two tiers of curbs from December 2.
Mr Raab said the aim of the tiers is to enable England to ‘come out of national lockdown and stay out of it’ as he stressed areas will be able to move down to a lower tier if the virus is in retreat.
He said the tiered system, the roll out of vaccines and greater mass-testing in the coming months would provide a ‘crucial bridge to that light at the end of the tunnel in the Spring’.
The intervention came after Boris Johnson attempted to head off a Tory rebellion over the tier system.
Parliament will vote on Tuesday on whether the new curbs should be rolled out from December 2 and the PM last night said there would be a further vote early next year on keeping the measures in place.
He has also announced there will be a sunset clause of February 3 on the restrictions which means if MPs reject extending the measures they could end within nine weeks.
Mr Johnson has also stressed that at the first review of the measures on December 16 he will move areas down a tier where there is ‘robust evidence’ that coronavirus is in sustained decline. The measures will then be reviewed every two weeks.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab today admitted there is a ‘risk’ of a third wave of coronavirus infections in the new year if ministers don’t ‘get the balance right’ on restrictions
Boris Johnson today urged Britain not to ‘blow it’ in the battle against Covid-19 by flouting the rules of his controversial new three-tier system of restrictions
Almost the entire nation is set to be banned from socialising indoors until Easter, officials admitted last night. The senior sources said it was ‘unrealistic’ to expect areas under the toughest curbs – Tiers 2 and 3 – to move down to Tier 1 before spring
Under a ‘virtual lockdown’ revealed on Thursday, 99 per cent of the population is set to be put in the top two tiers, which ban household gatherings and cripple the hospitality trade
Expert warns Boris Johnson it would be a ‘terrible mistake’ to ease curbs too quickly
One of the Government’s scientific experts has warned Boris Johnson it would be a ‘terrible mistake’ to ease coronavirus curbs too quickly ahead of the roll out of vaccines.
Boris Johnson has said that at the first review of the new tier restrictions in mid-December he will move areas down a level where there is ‘robust evidence’ that coronavirus is in sustained decline.
But Professor Peter Openshaw of Imperial College London, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), urged the PM to adopt a cautious approach to lifting rules.
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: ‘We scientists are very concerned indeed about relaxation of precautions at this stage. The rates are still too high, there’s too many cases coming into hospitals, too many people dying.
‘And if we take the brakes off at this stage, just when the end is in sight, I think we would be making a huge mistake.
‘We’ve all sacrificed so much, everyone has sacrificed enormously in order to get the transmission rate down. With only a few months to go until vaccines start to have an effect I think it would just be a terrible mistake.
‘I think we must keep this under control and just behave very, very sensibly. It’s extremely difficult to get this right and I don’t envy the politicians.’
Mr Johnson wrote to Tory MPs on Saturday night as he tried to assuage their fears amid reports as many as 100 Conservative backbenchers could revolt.
He has urged people to stick with the curbs, warning against trying to ‘jump the fence now’ in a bid to reach ‘the sunlit upland pastures ahead’.
In an allusion to the war film The Great Escape, dramatising attempts to flee a German prisoner-of-war camp, Mr Johnson said that if we do ‘we will simply tangle ourselves in the last barbed wire, with disastrous consequences for the
With the mass rollout of the first coronavirus vaccines now expected to start within weeks, Mr Johnson deployed a reference to another war, as he wrote in the Mail on Sunday: ‘We will inevitably win, because the armies of science are coming to our aid with all the morale-boosting bugle-blasting excitement of Wellington’s Prussian allies coming through the woods on the afternoon of Waterloo’.
Labour is expected to back the Government’s tiered system at Tuesday’s vote which means the rules are almost certain to clear the House of Commons even if there is a massive Conservative rebellion.
However, shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy has warned her party’s support is ‘not unconditional’.
Mr Raab defended the plans this morning, telling Sophy Ridge on Sky News: ‘The reality is we want to come out of national lockdown and stay out of it.
‘There is hope, there is light at the end of the tunnel with the prospect, subject to regulatory approval, of the vaccine being ready to be in place and distributed by the Spring which will allow a real step change back to life resembling normal.
‘The two things we need between now and then, this tiered approach so that we can target the virus where it is the most dangerous, we are starting with a more restrictive approach than previously with a localised approach, but that allows us to ease up when we are confident the virus is going down and stabilises. There is a review every two weeks.
‘The second thing is just the testing and what we have seen, we have had 12 million people tested and we have seen in Liverpool with community wide testing at-scale done more quickly, that really helps us bear down on the virus.
‘Those two things are the crucial bridge to that light at the end of the tunnel in the Spring.’
However, Mr Raab conceded that if the tiers do not work and infection rates increase then there could be a third wave of infections in January and February.
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: ‘Well, there is a risk of that if we don’t get the balance right but so far the R level is coming down, that is really important, and that is why we are starting with the tiered approach, more restrictive than some people would like than previously, but that allows us to ease up.’
Mr Raab said ministers are ‘doing everything we can to avoid’ a third national lockdown and people are ‘getting well ahead’ by talking about a potential third wave given that the second national lockdown is yet to end.
The Foreign Secretary was asked whether the areas being placed into each tier could be split up – so-called ‘decoupling’ – so that urban centres with high infection rates do not drag down more rural areas in the same county which have low infection rates.
Mr Raab said: ‘We will have a review every two weeks and of course there will be I am sure debate this week on it.
‘We always look at all things but the problem is… that you have got to get the geographic size sufficiently effective that you don’t find if you like the smaller enclaves of lower level virus shifting up because they are not subject to the restrictions in the higher level areas around them.’
Mr Raab said he hoped vaccines, mass-testing and the tiers system will result in the UK making it to ‘a whole different world’ by the Spring.
Ms Nandy said Labour was seeking ‘clarity’ about the Government’s new tier system ahead of this week’s vote, warning her party’s support is ‘not unconditional’.
She told BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: ‘We very much share the view that there need to be public restrictions… we’re still very concerned particularly in parts of the north of England like mine about the pressure on hospitals.
‘So we don’t share the view of those Tory backbenchers that you can just let this virus rip through the population with the damage that that would do, but we want clarity from the Government on two things.
‘First of all, is this sufficient to get control of the virus – we’re meeting the chief medical officer tomorrow afternoon to discuss that – and secondly whether people will actually be able to comply with this?
‘We need to see proper support put in place so that people can comply, otherwise we could end up in a worse situation in January and nobody wants that.’
Many Tory backbenchers are angry that 99 per cent of England’s population will be subject to the most stringent restrictions in tiers 2 and 3, which they argue will prove a disaster for the economy, and especially the battered hospitality industry in the crucial run-up to Christmas.
Last night, in an attempt to buy off the rebels ahead of Tuesday’s vote on the restrictions, Mr Johnson promised to give MPs another vote on January 27, and said that a ‘sunset clause’ would mean that the current rules would automatically expire on February 3. It means the tier system could end in just nine weeks.
Mr Johnson also reiterated that the current measures – which economic experts project will cost the UK £900 million a day – would be reviewed on December 16.
Rebel leader Steve Baker, of the Covid Recovery Group, said that he and fellow Tory backbenchers would ‘digest the content’ of Mr Johnson’s offer over the weekend, but called on Number 10 to publish a full analysis of the ‘health, economic and social impacts of Covid and the measures taken to suppress them’.
Mr Baker said the rebels were ‘grateful for the constructive approach being taken by the Prime Minister’, but said: ‘The key thing MPs have been asking for before next week’s vote has not yet been published.’
The UK’s coronavirus reproduction rate may have fallen below the crucial number of one (shown left), with SAGE estimating every region in England has an R below one except London and the South East, where it is hovering around the crucial number. A growing number of Tory MPs (listed right) have been openly critical of the government’s local lockdown tiers – although some have indicated they plan to abstain in a crunch vote next week rather than oppose the plan outright
Health minister ‘told MPs it is hard to find staff to run Nightingale hospitals because they are ‘dark and dingy”
Ministers are facing accusations of exaggerating capacity issues within the NHS to make the case for the new tier system after it was claimed a health minister told Tory MPs that Nightingale hospitals were largely empty.
Michael Gove prompted Conservative backbencher fury on Saturday after he said hospitals, including Nightingale emergency facilities, could be ‘physically overwhelmed’ without tough coronavirus curbs in the coming weeks.
But Tory MPs told the Observer that Nadine Dorries, a health minister, had told a group of them last week that the emergency hospitals set up specifically for the Covid-19 outbreak were largely unfilled because they are viewed as ‘dark and dingy’, making it hard to recruit staff to work there.
Sources close to Ms Dorries denied she had used those words.
One of the potential Tory rebels, Pauline Latham, said this morning Mr Johnson ‘won’t have a rebellion’ if he publishes the evidence which shows why the tiers are necessary.
She told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: ‘I’d like to see the data. I’d like to see the evidence, more evidence than we’ve been given.
‘If we can see that then I do feel I might be able to support them, particularly as we’re looking at having another vote in January.’
She added: ‘I think it will depend very much on what Boris does between now and Tuesday.
‘If he produces that evidence and he can prove to us that he’s got good evidence to go on then I think he won’t have a rebellion.’
Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove had previously moved to quell the rebel Tories.
He told the MPs, who include backbench 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady, that their failure to back Number 10’s policy on Tuesday – the day before tiers are set to be introduced – could lead to every hospital in England being ‘overwhelmed’ with Covid-19 cases.
Backbench anger was fuelled by reports that senior officials plan to ban all indoor socialising until Easter, although in his Mail on Sunday article Mr Johnson said that ‘with the help of these scientific advances we hope to make progress – and to de-escalate – BEFORE Easter’.
Also writing in the newspaper, senior Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, the powerful chair of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, criticised the way the tiering regime was devised and implemented.
In a stern warning, he said the isolation of lockdowns has made ‘some people question whether life is worth living’.
Elsewhere in this newspaper, fellow Tory MP Charles Walker said that the arrest of an elderly anti-lockdown protester outside Parliament last week demonstrated a ‘cavalier approach to the trashing of our constituents’ civil liberties’.
The tier system will be reviewed on December 16, with Number 10 hopeful that some areas in the most restrictive tier 3 band will then be able to move to tier 2 as a ‘morale booster’.
Reports suggest Greater Manchester could be among the first areas shifted from tier 3 to tier 2.
Andy Burnham, the mayor of the region, has been told that it will be downgraded after the first review takes place, according to the Sunday Times.
In his article, Mr Johnson mounted a plea for patience by the British public as he said: ‘We have worked too hard, lost too many, sacrificed too much, just to see our efforts incinerated in another volcanic eruption of the virus’.
But he insisted we will soon ‘drive Covid out of our lives’.