Lockdown: What Might Happen When The Current Rules End

Boris Johnson told MPs the national coronavirus measures will end "whatever happens". But Matt Hancock said it is "too early to say".

Boris Johnson has all but guaranteed England’s four-week national lockdown will end on December 2, as the restrictions legally expire. But what happens next?

Will the national lockdown end?

The prime minister has repeatedly said the current rules will not be extended. “Whatever happens these restrictions end on December 2,” he told MPs when he unveiled the plan on November 2.

And in a speech to the Confederation of British Industry on November 4, he told business leaders: “Believe me, we will end these autumn measures on December 2, when they expire.”

But Matt Hancock, the health secretary, perhaps gave the game away on Monday when asked if the national lockdown would really end or if it would just be “rebadged”.

“It is too early to say I’m afraid,” he told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme. “We’ve seen in the last week that there is still a very high number of cases but we do absolutely want to come out of this national lockdown.

“That is our goal, everybody has a part to play in making that happen of course, following the social distancing rules and isolating when you need to, which is the critical thing.”

What replaces it?

MPs have been promised a vote. Whatever happens it will not be nothing— even if rules are relaxed in an attempt to give people a more normal Christmas.

Johnson has said he wants England to return to “a” tiered system of local lockdowns. But note the prime minister said “a” tiered system not “the” tiered system.

Tier 4?

The local lockdown system in place before November 5 had three tiers of escalating severity. But this could change.

Under tier 1, people were allowed to socialise in groups of up to six people and hospitality such as pubs and restaurants could remain open.

Under tier 2, people were banned from socialising with anybody outside their household or support bubble in any indoor setting. Pubs and restaurants could stay open. The rule of six applied outdoors.

Under tier 3, people were banned from socialising with anyone they did not live with or have not formed a support bubble with, indoors or outdoors in hospitality venue such as beer gardens. Pubs were only allowed to stay open if they served a “substantial meal” with drinks.

But this previous system could be ripped up or added to. It has been reported the government could add a tier 4 to the levels, which would impose the restrictions of the current national lockdown on a local area.

According to The Daily Telegraph, the system could also be changed so larger regions of England, such as the north west or south east, are placed into tiers rather than individual towns or local council areas.

It raises the prospect that the entire country could be placed into the same regional lockdown level, a national lockdown in all but name.

What do the scientists think?

Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, said in October he did not think the “base” level restrictions of tier 3 “would be enough” to slow down the number of Covid-19 infections and enable the country to “get on top of it”.

On Friday it emerged that scientists advising the government told ministers on November 4, the day before the national lockdown was introduced, that England would likely need to impose stricter restrictions post-lockdown than were in place before.

A paper produced by the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M-O), said: “If England returns to the same application of the tiering system in place before November 5, then transmission will return to the same rate of increase as today.”

What do MPs think?

A substantial number of Tory MPs are opposed to repeated lockdowns. Some 32 Conservatives rebelled against the government when the Commons approved the current restrictions.

Mark Harper, a former Tory chief whip, is a leader of the new “Covid recovery group” of backbench Conservatives who believe lockdowns risk being “worse than the disease” given the impact on the economy and other health problems.

It means the prime minister could have to rely on Keir Starmer and Labour votes to push new rules through parliament.

Will regions return to the same tier as before?

No, not necessarily. Speaking in the Commons on November 2, Johnson said the tier that areas go into “will depend very much on the effectiveness with which we have all followed the instructions” of the national lockdown.

There is no strict system of determining what area is put into what level of lockdown. But Hancock told MPs on November 10: “The more that we can do to get the infection rates down during lockdown, the easier it will be to get out of lockdown, and places can get out in lower tiers.”


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