The health secretary has admitted England’s tier system is not working effectively to reduce spiralling Covid-19 infection rates.
Matt Hancock warned the system is ‘no longer strong enough’ and there will be ‘some very difficult weeks ahead’, after refusing to rule out a third national lockdown.
He said the mutant variant makes life ‘much harder’ and that he was ‘incredibly worried’ about the latest strain from South Africa.
The health secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘There are Tier three areas of the country where the virus is clearly spreading and increasing, and in fact some of those areas are where it is increasing the fastest.
‘And we have moved incredibly fast to take action when necessary, including on Boxing Day, so we don’t shy away from those decisions, difficult as they are, because they can be necessary for the control of the virus.’
Mr Hancock went on: ‘We have shown that we are prepared to move incredibly quickly, within 24 hours if we think that is necessary, and we keep these things under review all the time.
‘We look at the data on a daily basis and we can see at the moment that there are significant rises, especially, as I say, in the areas that are still in Tier three.’
Despite hailing today’s rollout of Oxford/AstraZeneca’s vaccine a ‘pivotal moment’, he urged people to stick to the rules and that it is ‘on everyone to act as if you have the virus because it is only that way that we can stop this new variant from spreading’.
His comments came after Sir Keir Starmer yesterday called on the prime minister to introduce another lockdown ‘within 24 hours’, as he said the virus is ‘clearly out of control’.
The Labour leader urged Boris Johnson to act urgently instead of saying ‘I’m going to do it but not yet’, adding that is ‘the problem he’s made so many times.’
Mr Johnson had earlier warned the tier system was ‘probably about to get tougher’ and that harsher measures were needed in ‘many parts of the country’ which could be implemented in the ‘weeks ahead’.
Reports today suggested the PM is set to decide today whether to implement further restrictions, as the Mail reported the key ‘Covid-O’ committee, which oversees lockdown plans, will meet today.
England could be plunged into its third national lockdown by the middle of January which could last until at least Easter, according to The Telegraph.
Currently, 44 million people – about three-quarters of the country – are living under the strictest tier four measures which include a stay at home’ message, with only essential retail permitted to open.
But it is thought ministers are considering putting more areas into tier four, as coronavirus rates spiral with the UK recording more than 50,000 cases on Sunday for the sixth consecutive day.
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