Government continues to defend regional approach to rising Covid-19 cases
Ministers have continued to defend the use of regional measures to tackle rising coronavirus cases in England despite mounting pressure to call a national lockdown.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the Government is “striving” to avoid issuing blanket restrictions nationwide as he insisted targeted measures could slow the growth in cases.
One in five people in England will be living under the toughest coronavirus restrictions from Monday when West Yorkshire moves into Tier 3, while 58% of the population will be living under either Tier 2 or 3 measures.
Asked whether ministers had been given a “very, very bleak” presentation by scientists on Thursday about rising cases and the future death toll, Mr Raab told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We are very careful to protect the integrity of the discussions and the information we have, but we do think the situation is serious.
“Having said that, we’re confident we’ve got the right measures and framework in place – which is not to have a blanket approach – with the target measures, both (in terms of) restrictions but also financial support on the areas where the uptick is the highest.
“We have seen, since we adopted that approach, a decrease in the rate of growth, but clearly there is still an uptick in the virus. We are battling a second wave, and we’re going to do everything we can, in a targeted and focused way, to repress and bring those numbers back down.”
Asked about the potential for introducing a Tier 4 higher level of restrictions, Mr Raab said introducing further measures is an option.
“We’re always ready for further measures that we can take, but I think the most important thing about further measures is that we continue on the track that we’re on of targeting the virus,” he said.
“The difference between now and the first lockdown is we’re in a much better place to really focus on where the virus is the greatest and I think that’s right, not only in scientific and virus management terms, but I think in terms of the way people feel about tackling this virus.
“It’s fair that it fits the natural justice that we’re focusing on the areas where the uptick is the greatest, and we’re not taking a one-size-fits-all approach or a blanket approach or a blunt approach, so we’ll continue down that path.”
Mr Raab said the “arbitrariness of a blanket approach will be far worse than the effects of trying to be as targeted as possible”.
And he suggested scientists are backing the current course, saying: “The overwhelming scientific advice to us is targeted measures are the right way to go if you take them and you’re committed to them, and we have not just the restrictions in place but the financial support.
“They’ve got the greatest chance of being effective without the downside of the economy.”
On September 21, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which advises the Government, said a series of measures should be considered for “immediate introduction”, including a nationwide circuit-breaker and a ban on contact indoors with other households unless as part of a support bubble.
Mr Raab told BBC Breakfast the public would find it “desperately unfair” to face a national lockdown while rates vary across the country.
“I think in areas where the virus is not picking up, I think people would feel it was not only counterproductive or ineffective but desperately unfair for measures to be imposed across the board,” he said.
It came as Nottinghamshire entered Tier 3 restrictions on Friday, with groups of young people taking to the streets in fancy dress on Thursday evening just before the measures came in.
In the market square in Nottingham, people were seen drinking alcohol in groups after pubs closed and chanting near police vehicles, while youngsters posed for photographs dressed as minions from the film Despicable Me.
Elsewhere, Tees Valley and the West Midlands are expected to be moved up to Tier 3 shortly, with local authority sources in the West Midlands saying the “very high” alert level could be imposed “by the end of next week or the start of the following week”.
Leaders in the Tees Valley said the Government had told them it intended to raise their area into Tier 3 – although no agreement has been reached.
More than a dozen regions will move from the lowest to the middle tier of restrictions on Saturday.
These include the East Riding of Yorkshire, Kingston-Upon-Hull, North East Lincolnshire, North Lincolnshire, Dudley, Staffordshire, Telford, the Wrekin, Amber Valley, Bolsover, Derbyshire Dales, Derby City, South Derbyshire, the whole of High Peak, Charnwood, Luton and Oxford.
It came as new data from NHS England showed the number of hospital beds in England occupied by confirmed coronavirus patients has more than doubled in two weeks from 4,105 on October 13 to 8,595 on Tuesday.
The new data, published on Thursday, also showed there were 743 Covid-19 patients in mechanical ventilation beds in England on Tuesday, up from 560 on the same day the previous week.
There are more than 30,000 mechanical ventilators available to the NHS following a rapid expansion over the summer, although the majority are being held in reserve for use if and when needed.
Across England, hospitals have begun looking at whether they need to cancel non-urgent operations, with bosses in Leeds, Liverpool, Nottingham and Bradford already cancelling some routine treatments.
An average of 230 deaths a day from Covid-19 have been reported in the UK over the past seven days, compared with 151 for the previous week.
In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said a new tiered system of restrictions will come into force at 6am on Monday.
The central belt, Dundee, Inverclyde and Ayrshire will be placed into Level 3; Aberdeenshire, Fife, the Borders, Dumfries and Galloway will be in Level 2; and the Highlands and much of the Islands will be in Level 1.