Tier review unlikely to bring festive cheer – as minister warns ‘don’t travel if you don’t need to’


The health secretary will today outline which, if any, regions in England will change tiers before the relaxation of COVID rules over the festive period.

Matt Hancock will also explain plans to extend mass community testing to Tier 2 areas with high rates of coronavirus.

Currently, only Tier 3 areas are eligible for the localised testing scheme and the additional rollout signifies a desire to help local councils prevent their area from moving up the scale.

Some locations could see community testing up and running before Christmas.

Today’s tier review was promised when the system was brought in at the beginning of the month, but its significance was undermined by the announcement on Monday that London and parts of Essex and Hertfordshire would be moving into the top tier because of rising case numbers.

Parts of the country such as Greater Manchester and Leeds, whose MPs and local politicians had been lobbying the prime minister for a move from Tier 3 to Tier 2 in order to help the struggling retail and hospitality sectors, are likely to be disappointed.

Boris Johnson’s warnings on Wednesday that “a smaller Christmas is going to be a safer Christmas” and festive bubbles of up to three households are “maximums” and not “targets to aim for”, were a clear indication of the government’s reluctance to relax any restrictions.

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Mr Hancock is expected to reinforce the message that people should exercise extreme caution over Christmas and think carefully about meeting elderly or vulnerable relatives.

He has consistently been one of the strongest advocates in government for more measures to prevent people mixing and curb the spread of coronavirus.

Those at the sharp end in the fight against against COVID-19 have also made clear their opposition to easing restrictions prematurely.

In a statement on Wednesday Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers – which represents hospital trusts in England, said there was “real concern in many trusts in the northern half of the country about leaving Tier 3 prematurely”.

He added that “most hospitals in the north of the country still have very high levels of COVID-19 patients, just as we go into winter, the NHS’ busiest period.

“Given this level of COVID-19 demand and the number of beds lost to ensure appropriate infection control, even a small increase in the number of COVID-19 patients will also put those hospitals under significant pressure.”

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‘Shorter and smaller Christmas is safer Christmas’

And the British Medical Association (BMA) called on people to keep social mixing indoors to an “absolute minimum” over Christmas.

BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: “Relaxing the rules will, without doubt, cost lives and the impact on the NHS in the new year will be grave.

“For those reasons, as the voice of thousands of doctors, we urge people to think long and hard about how many people they share their Christmas with.”

Mr Hancock’s Commons statement will be one of the last acts in Westminster before MPs head home for their own Christmas holidays.

With three-fifths of England’s population now living under the strictest measures, they, like everyone else, will be hoping the relaxation of rules over the festive period does not lead to an even tighter regime in the new year.

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