The highest level of restrictions in England’s new three-tier local lockdown system “will not be sufficient” to slow COVID-19 infections alone, England’s chief medical officer has said.
From Wednesday, England will be split into “medium”, “high” and “very high” coronavirus alert levels.
Speaking at a Downing Street news briefing shortly after Boris Johnson confirmed the new system of localised COVID-19 restrictions, Professor Chris Whitty said he was “very confident that the measures that are currently in place are helping to slow the virus, and these measures will help to slow it further”.
However, he cast doubt on whether the basic package of measures for the highest alert areas would be enough to limit the spread of COVID-19.
“I am not confident – and nor is anybody confident – that the Tier 3 proposals for the highest rates, if we did the absolute base case and nothing more, would be enough to get on top of it,” he added.
“And that is why there’s a lot of flexibility in the Tier 3 level for local authorities… to actually go up that range, so that they can do significantly more than the absolute base.
“Because the base will not be sufficient, I think that’s very clearly the professional view.
“But there are quite a lot more additional things that can be done within that, with local guidance.”
Prof Whitty urged the public to abide by the new system of restrictions, adding: “The central thing about this is, these only work if people buy into them.”
The prime minister also issued a plea for the public to stick to the coronavirus rules, in the hope of achieving a relatively normal Christmas period.
“We’ll do our absolute best to try to make sure we can get life back to as close to normal as possible for Christmas,” he said.
“But that is going to depend, I’m afraid, on our success in getting this virus down and our ability as a country to follow through on the package of measures.”
The very high alert level will see people banned from socialising with other households both indoors and in private gardens, while bars and pubs will be closed unless they can operate as restaurants.
Mr Johnson outlined this was a “baseline” package of measures for the worst-affected areas and local leaders could decide to add extra restrictions.
The Liverpool City Region, which is the first part of England to be put into the very high tier, will also close gyms, leisure centres, bookies and casinos.
Mr Johnson said the government was working with local leaders across the country on new restrictions and accompanying support packages.
But he sent a message that he could impose restrictions even if they didn’t agree to new measures.
“If we can’t get agreement, then clearly it is the duty of national government to take the necessary action to protect the public and public health and we will,” he said.
Steve Rotherham, the mayor of the Liverpool City Region, said it was “totally false that myself or anyone else locally agreed to measures – they were dictated to us by government”.
“The only talks were about the extra money and resources that are coming to the city region to help deal with the consequences,” he added on Twitter.
Prof Whitty warned it would be an “illusion” to think the country can reduce the rise in coronavirus infections “without causing harm”.
“It is a balancing act between two harms: a harm for society and the economy on the one hand and a harm for health on the other hand,” he said.
He also pledged the UK would be in a “remarkably better place” to fight COVID-19 next winter, even if a vaccine hadn’t been approved by then.
“This does not depend on a vaccine, science will support us from many different directions,” he said.
“I cannot predict, and no-one can predict what are the combinations of treatments, vaccines, diagnostics and other interventions that we will have available to us.
“But I am extremely confident that when we go into the next winter we will do so in a remarkably better place than we do today.”
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