Matt Hancock has announced that three quarters of England will be placed under Tier 4 coronavirus restrictions as he declared that “case rates are doubling fast” and warned of “significant pressures on the NHS”.
Giving a Covid update to the Commons this afternoon, the Health Secretary has confirmed that vast swathes of England will join those parts of the country already under the strictest restrictions in an effort to halt the surge in Covid cases.
He said: “We must act to suppress the virus now, not least because the new variant makes the time between now and then even more difficult. And so whilst we have the good news of the vaccine today, we also have to take some difficult decisions.”
Areas in the North, including Cumbria, Cheshire, Warrington, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Blackpool, and Blackburn with Darwen will be placed under Tier 4 along with large parts of the Midlands and the South West.
Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth told MPs he understood why the Health Secretary has taken steps to place more areas under stricter restrictions and said the Labour Party would vote for the Covid regulations in parliament later today.
He argued: “The situation we are in today is truly horrific. This virus is out of control. Yesterday over 47,000 cases reported in England, in the last two weeks nearly half a million cases reported…
“In England, there are now more patients in hospital – over 20,000 – than at any time in the pandemic. With admissions rising day by day including almost 2000 on Christmas day. Hospitals are close to or at surge capacity.
“We see ambulances queuing up outside hospitals because there are no beds for their patients. We have London hospitals requesting to transfer patients in need of intensive care to Yorkshire.”
There were 21,787 patients in hospitals in England with Covid as of Tuesday morning, according to NHS England data, and cases reached a record daily high of 53,135 – surpassing the April peak during the first wave of the health crisis.
The new variant of the virus discovered earlier this month accounts for a majority of all new cases, and there had been growing calls for greater restrictions as cases surged in recent weeks and hospitals reported increasing pressure.
Emergency and NHS services in Essex declared a major incident this morning, allowing local leaders to seek further government support, as rising coronavirus cases put pressure on hospital capacity in the area.
Londoners have received a text message informing them that the ambulance service and hospitals are “extremely busy” and hospitals have reported oxygen shortfalls, with at least one NHS trust reducing its target usage to conserve supplies.
The Shadow Health Secretary asked today for reassurances on oxygen supplies through to hospitals, whether the Nightingale hospitals established earlier this year will be used and how, given current shortages, they would be staffed if so.
He also highlighted reports that just one in eight retired NHS staff had been brought back to work, representing 5,000 out of an eligible 30,000 who have applied to help in the fight against the virus.
Ashworth added: “Our National Health Service is becoming overwhelmed. I hope the Tier 4 restrictions are enough, but many believe even tougher restrictions are inevitable? Does he agree?
“We need not put more lives in jeopardy when vaccines are so near. Let’s give the achievements of our scientists the best chance to save lives. The country has sacrificed so much in 2020, let’s not repeat the same mistakes.”
The statement came after the government this morning announced that it had accepted the recommendation of the medicines and healthcare products regulatory agency to authorise the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine.
This latest vaccine is easier to deploy than the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine approved earlier this month, which must be stored at -70 °C. The Oxford vaccine needs only normal refrigeration at 2-8 °C.
The joint committee on vaccination and immunisation has advised that priority should be to give as many at-risk people their first dose of either vaccine, instead of providing two doses in four weeks in line with the protocol in the trials.
“People get protection after the first dose,” Hancock said today. “This means we can accelerate the speed at which we can vaccinate people for the first 12 weeks before we return to deliver the second doses for that longer-term protection.”
Asked this afternoon whether the government will introduce a level above the highest Tier 4 restrictions, Health Secretary Hancock told parliament: “I’m not announcing anything above Tier 4 today, no.”
Below are the areas entering Tier 4.
- Leicester City
- Derby and Derbyshire
- Nottingham and Nottinghamshire
- Birmingham and Black Country
- Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent
- Cheshire and Warrington
- Greater Manchester
- Tees Valley
- North East
- Somerset council
- Isle of Wight
- New Forest