The communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, has suggested more areas of England will be placed under tier 4 coronavirus restrictions as soon as Boxing Day to combat the “very worrying” hyper-infectious variant of Covid-19.
Jenrick said the government’s Covid-O operations committee would meet on Wednesday morning and that a decision on further action would be announced “as soon as we can”.
Amid reports that all of Sussex, parts of the Midlands and north of England could be placed in tier 4, meaning a ban on all household mixing, Jenrick hinted that the new rules would not come into force before Christmas day.
He told BBC Breakfast: “A judgment needs to be made as to whether the tiered system is strong enough, or whether at some point in the future we need to take further action.”
Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have announced strict nationwide restrictions in the past 48 hours to try contain the new Covid-19 variant, which is said to be 70% more infectious than previous strains and has already spread around the UK.
Jenrick said the government did not plan to impose a third national lockdown in England but that it wanted to make sure the tiered system was “sufficiently robust” to get the disease under control.
While it may be too soon for scientists to fully understand the impact of tier 4 restrictions, which were introduced in London and other parts of the south-east on Saturday, there will be concern that the infection rate has begun rising – sharply, in some places – in areas under tier 3, such as Lancashire, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands.
Jenrick described the new Covid-19 variant as a “significant gamechanger” and was now prevalent outside London and south-east England, although it is still much more concentrated in and around the capital.
He added: “What we want to do now is just make sure that the tiered system is right, that it’s sufficiently robust, that it can withstand and do the job, which is to keep the virus under control, even in these new changed circumstances.”
The Daily Telegraph reported that local leaders and health officials in Birmingham met on Tuesday night to discuss the possibility of the city being moved into tier 4, while areas in lower tiers could be moved up to tier 3.
France reopened non-essential shops this month, allowing Christmas shopping to begin. But an uptick in new infections since then means that while travel is permitted from 15 December, a nationwide 8pm to 7am curfew will begin then that will be lifted for 24 December, but not Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve. Bars and restaurants will not reopen until January and private gatherings are limited to six adults.
Germany’s “lockdown light”, with bars and restaurants closed since November, has not proved effective and the country has shut down further, closing all bar essential shops (such as supermarkets and pharmacies) as well as hair and beauty salons until at least 10 January. A maximum of five people from two households may meet, except for 24, 25 and 26 December when up to four close family members from other households can be invited.
Austria’s strict lockdown has ended and the country is carrying out a mass programme of 10 million tests over the next fortnight with the aim of allowing more families to reunite over the festive period. Christmas markets have been cancelled.
Italy’s prime minister has said tougher restrictions will be needed over the holiday period,but they have not yet been announced. Inter-regional travel is already banned from 20 December to 6 January except for work, health or emergency reasons, and Italians may not leave their home towns on Christmas Day, Boxing Day or New Year’s Day. Midnight mass on 24 December has been brought forward so worshippers can get home before a nationwide 10pm-5am curfew.
Spain has appealed for people to be responsible but will allow movement between regions “for family reasons” between 23 December and 6 January. Regional curfews, which range from 10pm to midnight, will be pushed back to 1.30am on 24 and 31 December, when the limit for gatherings will be raised from six to 10, a measure that will also apply on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
The Netherlands has imposed a tough Christmas lockdown, closing non-essential shops and businesses, gyms, museums, cinemas and theatres for five weeks until 19 January. Bars and restaurants have been closed since mid-October. Schools are switching to online learning and people advised to stay at home. Households may invite up to two guests a day except for 24-26 December, when the ceiling is raised to three, excluding children under 13.
Belgium has said households may be in close contact with just one extra person over the Christmas period, although people living on their own will be allowed to meet two others. Fireworks are to be banned on New Year’s Eve to limit gatherings.
Poland will allow people to spend Christmas only with their immediate family, with no more than five guests to be invited to each household until at least 27 December and travel banned outside people’s home towns.
Britain is relaxing restrictions over the holiday with “Christmas bubbles” allowing up to three households to mix between 23 and 27 December. Scientists, government advisers and medical experts have called for an urgent rethink, suggesting the move could result in a disastrous third wave in the New Year.
The Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, has written to the prime minister to say his party would back any government moves to tighten restrictions if that is what scientists recommended.
Sinn Féin has said an island-wide travel shutout should be introduced in Ireland to stem the spread of the new variant there.
It came as France lifted its travel ban and allowed journeys from the UK to resume, but said those seeking to travel must have a negative coronavirus test result.
It is expected NHS test and trace staff and the military will be deployed for the mass testing programme in Kent, where more than 2,800 HGVs were stuck on Tuesday afternoon.
The Road Haulage Association (RHA) warned UK supply chains would be affected despite the mass testing programme being introduced. An RHA spokesman said: “Even if the border is opened up, a short delay in the process is going to mean huge delays in the supply chain.”
The protocol agreed with the French government will be reviewed on 31 December – but could run until 6 January, the Department for Transport (DfT) said.
Those who can make journeys include French and EU residents, British or third-party nationals who normally live in France or the EU, as well as some other groups.
News – Covid: More of England could move into tier 4 from Boxing Day, says minister