Boris Johnson appears set to capitulate over his newly announced coronavirus tier plan before it even comes into force.
In the latest government U-turn during the pandemic, the Prime Minister could move more than 16 million people down a tier from the highest set of restrictions and scrap the county-wide approach to restrictions.
The changes, expected to come after a review of the restrictions on December 16, appears to be in response to backbench fury among Conservative MPs angered by the harsh rules. Earlier this week it was announced that when England’s lockdown ends on Wednesday, December 2, virtually the entire country will be placed into tiers two and three – banning indoor mixing.
But the PM wrote to Tories on Saturday night to say that restrictions could in fact be eased for those in tier three on December 19. That is certain to cause unease among scientists, who warned that the system should remain in place for months, especially given a five-day easing of restrictions for Christmas.
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England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty has previously slapped down suggestions that areas could go down a tier.
The plan is also likely to cause confusion among the public as it could mean many stay in tier three for just over a fortnight, before their status changes, while people in the same county would be living under different rules if a more localised approach is brought in.
Moving from tier three to two would allow people to go to pubs and restaurants with their family bubble if they eat a ‘substantial’ meal.
Those expected to benefit include 16.4 million people in 88 boroughs where the infection rate is lower than some tier two zones, according to The Sunday Times.
Mr Johnson’s letter also said that the new rules would be scrapped entirely in February if MPs vote against them, in a remarkable change of tone.
Earlier this week, the PM said: ‘If we ease off now, we risk losing control… forcing us back into a new year national lockdown with all the damage that would mean.’
The PM is thought to have been spooked by reports that around 70 Conservatives could vote against his tier plan on Tuesday – even though support from Labour would mean it easily passes through Parliament.
Sir Keir Starmer is expected to take a decision on voting for the restrictions tomorrow, but has always previously backed the government’s public health measures.
Mr Johnson’s letter suggests that ‘every local authority area and each region’ will be reviewed each fortnight, when they could be moved down a tier.Mum who killed her six children in house fire is freed after eight years
It comes just hours after The Times published an article by Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove suggesting that tiers must apply to entire counties because ‘casting the net wide is more effective’.
And this morning, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said coronavirus cases would rise exponentially if restrictions were not applied on a wider level, such as across counties.
He told Sky: ;Where you’ve got low levels in a particular area but it’s surrounded by areas others with higher levels…
‘If you don’t apply on a wider levels – which is why we’re using the countywide basis – the same restrictions, all that happens is the virus in those lower levels… goes up exponentially.’
Mr Johnson has repeatedly U-turned throughout the pandemic, notably in insisting the country would not need another national lockdown.
The PM said the latest tier plan would contain an expiry date of February 3, with MPs offered the chance to vote to extend them until the end of March.
He claimed that the first review of the tiers, on December 16, would consider the views of local directors of public health, with a final decision on whether any areas should change tiers made at a Cabinet committee.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show this morning, vaccines expert Professor Peter Openshaw said the country would be making a ‘huge mistake’ by taking the ‘brakes off’ too early.
The PM also committed to publish more data and outline what circumstances need to change for an area to move down a tier, as well analysis of the health, economic and social impacts of the measures taken to suppress coronavirus.
Pauline Latham, the Conservative MP for Mid Derbyshire, told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday that she ‘might’ support the Government in a vote on the tiered measures this week if ‘more evidence’ is laid out.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Mr Johnson said he believed Easter would mark a ‘real chance to return to something like life as normal’, but stressed that it was still too early to relax restrictions.
He has previously said the country could hope to be back to normal by Christmas.
Metro.co.uk has contacted Number 10 for comment.
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