Returning to the tier system will be "hard to justify" if coronavirus infection rates continue to fall before the end of England's lockdown next week, according to an expert.
The government is to confirm today which regions will be placed under the strictest Tier 3 measures from December 2, and which will be given greater freedoms.
If, as expected, the North East goes into Tier 3, it will mean continued bans on indoor socialising, while pubs and restaurants will have to remain shut unless serving meals.
But Oxford University epidemiologist Professor Carl Heneghan said if cases continue to fall at the same rate in the coming days "it will be hard to justify tougher tiered restrictions".
Instead, he said the Government must be "much more flexible and reactive, and set out clear criteria", reports The Mirror.
He told the Daily Mail: "There is no point in saying to people 'this is where you are now [in terms of Covid] and you’ll be in this tier next week'.
"We should be explaining to people the two important criteria that should decide which areas go into which tiers -symptomatic cases and hospital rates.
"For instance, say Kent is announced to be in Tier Three and it has 50 per cent of hospital beds occupied by Covid patients, you could tell people they have to adjust that to 30 per cent to come out of Tier Three. That’s objective criteria.
After a spike in cases at the start of this month’s four-week lockdown, infection rates across the North East have seen significant falls over recent days.
Newcastle City Council published figures on Wednesday afternoon stating that the average infection rate in the North East is now 279 new weekly cases per 100,000 people – compared to 295 on Tuesday and 398 a week ago.
Latest Public Health England data shows all seven authority areas in the region have recorded a decrease in cases with a 38% fall to 5733 in the week leading to November 21 from 7900 in the previous seven days.
The falling numbers have offered some small hope that the region might yet be able to claw its way into Tier 2, though local officials have suggested that the drop may have come too late.
Mr Johnson faced disquiet as he told the 1922 Committee of backbenchers the system is the only way to avoid a third wave.
"I don’t want them to be any tougher than they need to be, but I have to warn you – they are going to be tough," he said.
Jake Berry, of the Northern Research Group of Tory MPs, has called for a "clear route out of the tiering system" to avoid the North getting "stuck in a Hotel California lockdown".
The likes of Cumbria, Devon and Cornwall are expected to be among the few areas in Tier 1.
Mr Johnson will make it clear that areas in higher tiers will be able to move down the scale before Christmas if they follow the rules, with reviews coming every 14 days.
Here is the full list of infection rates in the North East, compared to the previous week.
The list is based on Public Health England figures updated on November 25 on the Government’s coronavirus online dashboard.
From left to right, it reads: name of local authority; rate of new cases in the seven days to November 21; number (in brackets) of new cases recorded in the seven days to November 21; rate of new cases in the seven days to November 14; number (in brackets) of new cases recorded in the seven days to November 14.
South Tyneside 347.7 (525 cases) - dropping from 415.3 (627 cases) the week before
Newcastle upon Tyne 319.7 (968 cases) - dropping from 449.1 (1360 cases) the week before
Gateshead 290.0 (586 cases) - dropping from 411.3 (831 cases) the week before
North Tyneside 286.7 (596 cases) - dropping from 428.1 (890 cases) the week before
Sunderland 286.3 (795 cases) - dropping from 413.4 (1148 cases) the week before
County Durham 280.5 (1487 cases) - dropping from 396.5 (2102 cases) the week before
Northumberland 240.7 (776 cases) - dropping from 292.2 (942 cases) the week before