Fresh plans are being drawn up to add an extra level of restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19 could see restaurants and non-essential shops shut in the event infection rates in England fail to drop.
Swathes of the North-East have been plunged into Tier 3 local lockdowns in recent weeks, which has seen pubs and bars close and a ban enforced on different households meeting.
Officials in Whitehall are now considering using short term, local circuit-breaker lockdowns to cut infection rates, while a fourth tier could be added to the Government’s existing system, which rates local alert levels under medium, high and very high.
It comes as Professor Neil Ferguson suggested some students should be sent home from school to prevent further infections.
Tier 3 restrictions in the North, including in Manchester, mean pubs and bars have been forced to close and households told not to mix. Officials say they will be able to tell if those measures have been enough by mid-November
According to The I, sources in Whitehall expect it will be clear by mid November whether existing restrictions are working to reduce daily case numbers.
Wales entered a ‘fire break’ lockdown on Friday, which has seen all non-essential retail, leisure and hospitality businesses close until November 9.
Similar to the nationwide lockdown in March, Welsh residents have been told they can only leave home for a limited number of reasons, such as exercise, providing care or buying essentials.
A row has broken out over the sale of essential items after supermarkets were seen cordoning off aisles and covering up some products.
First Minister Mark Drakeford tweeted yesterday: ‘We’ll be reviewing how the weekend has gone with the supermarkets and making sure that common sense is applied.
‘Supermarkets can sell anything that can be sold in any other type of shop that isn’t required to close. In the meantime, please only leave home if you need to.’
Supermarkets in Wales have been cordoning off aisles of their stores after Wales introduced a ban on ‘non-essential items,’ sparking confusion among shoppers
Lidl closed off all their ‘non-essential’ aisles in Porthmadog before 6pm on Friday, but First Minister for Wales Mark Drakeford has said supermarkets can sell ‘anything that can be sold in any other type of shop’
Meanwhile experts have said Scotland’s 16-day circuit breaker, which has been extended by another week, had little effect on coronavirus infections – which are falling.
Nicola Sturgeon’s scientific advisers themselves warned on Thursday it was ‘too early to detect any impact on transmission from the restrictions introduced on October 9’.
Yesterday Professor Neil Ferguson, whose modelling led to the original nationwide lockdown in March, warned schools may have to shut to older pupils if household restrictions fail to have an impact.
The Government’s tiered-programme does not currently allow for the closure of schools.
The effectiveness of ‘circuit breaker’ lockdowns has been called into question after Nicola Sturgeon’s scientific advisers warned y it was ‘too early to detect any impact on transmission from the restrictions introduced on October 9’
Prof Ferguson told BBC Radio 4: ‘That (banning households mixing) should have a significant effect but as yet we have been unable to see it definitively.
‘If we go beyond that there is a limit to what we can do in terms of reducing contacts, short of starting to target, for instance, the older years in schools and sixth form colleges where we know older teenagers are able to transmit as adults.
‘Of course nobody wants to start moving to virtual education and closing schools even partially. The challenge may be that we are not able to get on top of the transmission otherwise.’
Professor Neil Ferguson said experts had been unable to see a definitive effect caused by Tier 3 measures, adding older pupils could be sent home from school to prevent infections
Britain recorded 23,012 more Covid-19 cases yesterday, while 174 people died – 141 from England.
Local leaders have been told by Government that Tier 3 regions need to reduce social contact by 60 per cent.
On Friday five Army and Navy environmental health officers trained in ‘outbreak management’ were deployed in Liverpool on Friday, as the British Army was drafted in to support Tier 3 lockdown measures.
They have been tasked with identifying clusters of local infections, helping control outbreaks and taking action against businesses failing to comply with the Covid-19 rules.
It is thought that further teams will be moved into other high-risk areas within the coming weeks.
Labour councillor in Liverpool, Paul Brant, told The I he expected to see Tier 3 rules have some impact on Covid infection rates.
He added: ‘Our fear is that Sage are correct to say that it won’t be enough to drive the R below 1. Even if it does go down below 1, actual case levels have shot up now rapidly.
‘We know from the first wave that infection levels can rise very rapidly and they come down quite slowly, so we could well find ourselves in a situation where R has drifted down but absolute numbers were not.
‘If the numbers don’t significantly improve, no doubt we will be revisiting exactly the same questions about whether further restrictions are going to be necessary to drive the levels down. That is the argument for a short sharp shock.’
Professor Neil Ferguson said easing measures for Christmas was ultimately a political decision.
He said: ‘It risks some transmission and there will be consequences of that. Some people will die because of getting infected on that day.
‘But if it is only one or two days the impact is likely to be limited. So that is really a political judgment about the cost versus the benefits.’
WHAT ARE THE RULES IN DIFFERENT TIERS OF LOCKDOWN?
Tier one restrictions mirror those already in place across England.
These include the rule of six, a 10pm curfew, group sport to be played outdoors only and a maximum of 15 guests at wedding ceremonies.
Tier two restrictions mean people are prohibited from socialising with anybody outside their household or support bubble in any indoor setting
Two households may be allowed to meet in a private garden and public outdoor spaces, as long as the rule of six and social distancing are followed.
Tradespeople – such as plumbers and electricians – can continue to go into a household for work.
Restaurants can open, but only until 10pm.
Pubs and bars will be ordered to close unless they also operate as a restaurant.
This definition extends to pubs which sell ‘substantial’ meals, which like restaurants will be allowed to stay open but only serve alcohol to people eating a meal.
Locals are advised only to leave their areas for essential travel such as work, education or health, and must return before the end of the day.
Overnight stays by those from outside of these ‘high risk’ areas are also be banned. Households are not be allowed to mix either indoors or outdoors.