A fourth tier of Covid restrictions could be introduced in England if the current local lockdown rules fail to bring infection rates down before Christmas, according to reports.
It is understood that discussions are already underway among Government officials and local authorities for a “plan B” to help reduce the number of Covid cases if the three-tiered system already in place fails to work, the i has reported.
Why might Tier 4 be needed?
Options under consideration by the Government include increasing the already tough Tier 3 restrictions to “tier three-plus”, or Tier 4, if the R-rate of transmission doesn’t fall below 1 by mid-November.
The possibility of short-term local circuit breaker lockdowns is also being discussed as part of plans to help drive infection rates down.
While Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said a full national lockdown was not an option due to the severe impact on the economy, society and mental health, that is not to say a harsher local and regional approach may not be taken instead.
There are concerns that even with several regions in England now under the top Tier 3 level of restrictions, including Liverpool City Region, Lancashire, Greater Manchester and South Yorkshire, such measures won’t be enough to bring infection rates low enough before Christmas.
Warrington will also be placed under Tier 3 restrictions from Tuesday 27 October.
Local leaders within these ‘very high’ Covid alert level regions have been told by the Government that social contacts need to be cut by 60 per cent in order to reduce rates - the equivalent of bringing the R-rate from 1.6 to below 1.
Whitehall officials believe it will be clear by mid-November - just short of a month after the first Tier 3 measures were introduced - whether the current restrictions have made any difference to Covid case numbers.
What might Tier 4 rules include?
Existing Tier 3 restrictions have seen pubs and bars forced to close, unless they serve substantial meals, such as a main lunchtime or evening meal.
Casinos, adult gaming centres and soft play areas have also been required to close, but retail, schools, universities and places of worship are allowed to remain open.
If additional “tier three-plus” or Tier 4 restrictions are introduced, it could mean restaurants and non-essential shops will be forced to close.
It is expected that schools will not be required to close under any potential Tier 4 measures.
However, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the Government would “rule nothing out” on the prospect of a new fourth tier of restrictions.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Mr Hancock said: “We’ve always said all along that we take nothing off the table.
“Having said that, we have seen the rise in the number of cases has slowed a bit.
“The problem is it’s still going up, and while it’s still going up we’ve got to act to get it under control.
“We rule nothing out, but at the moment the three-tier system is what we’re working to and it’s effective in slowing the growth of the virus, but it hasn’t brought this curve to a halt.”
A version of this article originally appeared on our sister site, Yorkshire Evening Post.