The toughest Tier 3 restriction set to be imposed on the North East after the lockdown ends this week could only last until December 19, according to reports.
They say Boris Johnson capitulated to Tory MPs last night and announced he would reform his new coronavirus crackdown before Christmas after threats by backbenchers to vote down the Government’s plans.
According to the Sunday Times, the Prime Minister wrote to MPs, signalling that millions of people who will be hit with the toughest Tier 3 restrictions this week, including the North East, could see them eased on December 19.
They could be downgraded to Tier 2, in a much-needed boost for the hospitality industry.
He announced that the new rules would be scrapped altogether in February unless MPs want them to continue — putting an end to claims that tough restrictions will continue until Easter.
Mr Johnson wrote: “Where evidence shows the disease is in sustained decline, areas will be moved down.”
Those expected to benefit include 16.4 million people living in 88 boroughs in Tier 3 where the Covid-19 infection rate is lower than for some areas in Tier 2.
The move came after 70 Tory MPs said they were prepared to vote against his plans when they come before parliament on Tuesday — putting the PM at the mercy of Labour.
The figures, for the seven days to November 23, are based on tests carried out in laboratories (pillar one of the Government’s testing programme) and in the wider community (pillar two).
The rate is expressed as the number of new cases per 100,000 people. Data for the most recent four days (November 24-27) has been excluded as it is incomplete and does not reflect the true number of cases.
From left to right, it reads: name of local authority; rate of new cases in the seven days to November 23; number (in brackets) of new cases recorded in the seven days to November 23; rate of new cases in the seven days to November 16; number (in brackets) of new cases recorded in the seven days to November 16.
County Durham, 247.5, (1312), 367.9, (1950)
Gateshead, 257.4, (520), 355.8, (719)
Newcastle, 275.1, (833), 417.7, (1265)
North Tyneside, 268.9, (559), 391.0, (813)
Northumberland, 225.2, (726), 283.5, (914)
Sunderland, 239.5, (665), 386.7, (1074)
South Tyneside, 320.6, (484), 384.2, (580)
In his letter, Mr Johnson reportedly revealed that:
● The tiers plan will have a “sunset clause”, meaning it is abolished from February 3
● MPs will then get another vote on whether to continue with the same approach until March
● “Every local authority area and each region” will be reviewed every two weeks to see whether it should be in a lower tier — a signal the government is abandoning the approach that whole counties must be in the same tier even where they have a huge variance in infection rates
● The Government will publish the precise criteria needed to ease restrictions
● The public will be able to see live data on their town or council, updated online every day
● The new tiers will be announced on December 17 and come into force two days later.
The PM's change of heart was hailed as “constructive” by one of the rebels, Steve Baker.
But it raised new questions about Johnson's approach. Hours earlier Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, had published a 2,000-word article in The Times insisting that tiers must apply to entire counties because “casting the net wide is more effective”.
He also said hospitals could be overwhelmed without the curbs. But Tory MP Tobias Ellwood told the Observer that Gove had been “completely disingenuous because every one of our Nightingale (temporary hospitals) is underused. They are largely dormant.”
As previously reported, the Sunderland Nightingale Hospital has yet to receive any patients although there has been talk of it being used as a mass vaccination centre when the Covid jab is available.
The move put Mr Johnson on a collision course with scientists and health chiefs.
Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, said only last week that while Tier 3 would cut infections, Tier 2 was capable only of “holding the line”.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents health trusts, said: “Any decision taken now to relax the restrictions in the run-up to Christmas would be premature and full of risk.
"If the government gets this wrong there’s a real risk of a third surge in Covid cases in January or February, just when winter pressures on the health service are likely to be at their worst.”
Writing in The Mail on Sunday, Mr Johnson said: “We are so nearly out of our captivity. But if we try to jump the fence now, we will simply tangle ourselves in the last barbed wire, with disastrous consequences for the NHS.”