Pressure to impose a national lockdown in England is mounting as the number of coronavirus cases continues to climb and more than a dozen areas are due to move into a higher level of restrictions.
The three-tier system is being called into doubt, with the NHS Test and Trace system recording its highest ever weekly number of positive cases and a study by Imperial College London finding that almost 100,000 people are catching Covid-19 every day.
Experts are suggesting a more national approach is needed to address the soaring infection rate, and Home Secretary Priti Patel said the Government would not rule anything out.
As France enters a second lockdown from Friday and Germany imposes a four-week partial lockdown, there is pressure on the UK Government to be “tougher and quicker” in its response.
The latest data from the Test and Trace system shows that a total of 126,065 people tested positive for Covid-19 at least once in the week to October 21 – an increase of 23% in positive cases on the previous week and the highest weekly number since the programme began at the end of May.
The Government said a further 280 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Thursday, and as of 9am on Thursday there had been a further 23,065 lab-confirmed cases in the UK.
New data from NHS England also showed that the number of hospital beds in England occupied by confirmed coronavirus patients had more than doubled in two weeks from 4,105 on October 13 to 8,595 on Tuesday.
Asked if she would rule out another national lockdown, Ms Patel said: “Well I think at this stage of course we can rule nothing out because we are a Government that is focused on making sure that we stop the spread of this virus and also (that) we protect public health.
“So we have been using, and we are using and we will continue to use, every single means available to us to do exactly that.”
But earlier, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said the Government will “try everything in our power” to avoid a “blanket national lockdown”.
He said the Government’s “very firm view” is that a short national “circuit-breaker” lockdown would be the wrong approach, saying “you can’t have a stop-start country”.
West Yorkshire will move into Tier 3 (very high) restrictions from Monday, with council leaders in the region saying they had negotiated a financial package worth an additional £59.3 million.
Areas moving from Tier 1 (medium) to Tier 2 (high) on Saturday include 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 City.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “We continue to see a worrying rise in cases right across the country, and it is clear decisive action is needed.”
The latest weekly surveillance report from Public Health England shows that Covid-19 case rates in England are rising for all age groups except 10 to 19 year-olds.
The highest rates are currently among 20 to 29-year-olds, where the rate was 333.2 cases per 100,000 people in the week to October 25, up from 306.6 in the previous week.
The rate among 30 to 39-year-olds was 274.1 per 100,000, up from 213.8.
For the 70-79 age group, the rate was 110.0, up from 88.0, while for people aged 80 and over it was 156.7, up from 125.6.
Separate data from NHS England revealed there were 8,595 patients with coronavirus in hospital beds across England on October 27 – up from 6,072 on October 20 and more than double the 4,105 beds occupied with confirmed Covid-19 patients on October 13.
Meanwhile, local authority sources in the West Midlands said the “very high” restrictions level – Tier 3 – could be imposed “by the end of next week or the start of the following week”.
Government scientific adviser Dr Mike Tildesley has said more national restrictions are needed, with the current trajectory likely to put nearly everywhere in Tier 2 before Christmas.
The University of Warwick researcher, who sits on the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We are seeing the R number is greater than one everywhere. And, in a sense, some kind of national lockdown, a circuit-breaker or something along those lines, would actually have more effect in those parts of the country that have not yet progressed into Tier 2.
“R is greater than one everywhere and if we don’t take urgent action, we’re most likely to see that as we’re approaching the festive period, we’re probably going to be at least in Tier 2 pretty much everywhere in the country.
“So really we need to move away from these regional firefighting techniques to try to move to something more national.”
Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College London, said there would be “genuine benefits to some kind of national policy”.
He told the Today programme: “There has to be a change. The rate of growth that we’re seeing in these data is really quite rapid. So one way or another, there has to be a change before Christmas.”
Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, said politicians must be ready to make tough decisions early rather than late.
She added: “Given the rising rates of infection and growing pressures on bed occupancy, we would urge the Government to take a cautious and pre-emptive approach, which means being tougher and quicker in its response.”
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis is self-isolating after recently coming into contact with someone who has since tested positive for the virus.
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.