Most of England is expected to face tough coronavirus restrictions when the new tier arrangements are set out, with bans on households mixing indoors and curbs on pubs and restaurants.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock will set out the plans in the Commons but ministers have already warned that more areas will likely be in higher tiers compared to the regime before the lockdown.
The new arrangements will apply from December 2 after England’s blanket lockdown ends and restrictions have been tightened after Government scientific advisers warned that previous measures had not been effective enough.
Only a few of the least affected areas are expected to be placed in Tier 1 (where restrictions are limited).
In this tier, the rule of six applies indoors and outdoors, people are urged to work from home if they can and pubs are limited to table service.
Large swathes of the country – including London – are expected to face Tier 2 restrictions with a ban on households mixing indoors and pubs, and restaurants only able to sell alcohol with a “substantial meal”.
Manchester, which under metro mayor Andy Burnham fought a battle against the Tier 3 measures imposed before the lockdown, is braced to remain in the highest level of restrictions.
This would mean a ban on households mixing, except in limited circumstances such as parks. Bars and restaurants would be limited to takeaway or delivery services and people would be advised to avoid travelling outside their area.
Merseyside’s leaders hope to move down from Tier 3 to Tier 2 in recognition of Liverpool’s efforts in tackling the virus.
Liverpool City Region mayor Steve Rotheram said: “The progress we’ve made since we were put in Tier 3 is remarkable – we’ve gone from having two areas with infection rates of about 750 per 100k to 180 across the city region.”
Meanwhile, Lancashire’s council leaders have submitted a proposal to the Government to divide the county into two different tiers.
A request has been made for Hyndburn, Rossendale, Burnley, Pendle and Preston to go into Tier 3 restrictions while Fylde, Wyre, Lancaster, Chorley, South Ribble, Ribble Valley and West Lancashire would go into Tier 2.
Tory MPs in Kent have also lobbied the Prime Minister to not impose county-wide restrictions due to variations in case numbers.
Kent MPs want to see Covid restrictions at a borough / district level. The differences across the county are large and communities need to be treated appropriately. pic.twitter.com/hkGanKToT6
— Tom Tugendhat (@TomTugendhat) November 25, 2020
“We must allow businesses to prosper and not be held back by restrictions not suitable for their area,” the group including former ministers Greg Clark, Damian Green and Tracey Crouch said.
Mr Green suggested that “unfair” restrictions will “not be respected or obeyed”.
But Mr Johnson warned that “the disease is no respecter of borough boundaries” and regions had to be “sensible and large enough”.
Despite the expectation that most of England will continue to face major restrictions, Chancellor Rishi Sunak insisted that people would notice a “tangible” difference from the lockdown.
“Whichever tier you’re in – I think people will see a tangible change,” he told Sky News.
“That said, things are obviously not normal and I can’t pretend that next week things are going to feel like they were before the spring.”
The tiers will be reviewed on December 16 but experts have warned that people must continue to face restrictions ahead of the UK-wide easing of measures over Christmas.
Mr Hancock said: “Thanks to the hard work and sacrifice made by people up and down the country, we are able to move out of national lockdown and into more targeted local, tiered restrictions.
“I know for those of you faced with Tier 3 restrictions this will be a particularly difficult time but I want to reassure you that we’ll be supporting your areas with mass community testing and extra funding.
“By following the rules together we can get out of these tough measures.”
The Department of Health said decisions on tier levels were based on a number of factors, including case detection rates in all age groups and, in particular, amongst the over 60s.
How quickly case rates are rising or falling and the impact on local NHS services are also taken into account.
The final decisions were made by the Prime Minister at the Covid Operations Committee.
Mr Johnson, whose coronavirus self-isolation period has ended, is expected to hold a press conference later.
Areas placed in Tier 3 will be offered support from NHS Test and Trace and the armed forces will deliver a six-week rapid community testing programme, making use of rapid lateral flow tests which give results within an hour.
Official figures showed a further 696 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Wednesday, with the UK total now standing at 56,533.
A further 18,213 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus were reported on Wednesday.
In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon has said rules allowing people to meet up at Christmas are likely to be tightened when they are set out on Thursday.
The Welsh Cabinet is also expected to meet to decide whether further restrictions similar to the English tier system will be needed before Christmas, although a decision is not likely to be announced until Friday.
In Northern Ireland, tougher lockdown restrictions will be introduced from Friday with pubs, restaurants, non-essential retail and close contact services to close for a fortnight.