People from different households might need to be banned from socialising indoors until a vaccine is available, a senior Public Health England (PHE) official has suggested.
Speaking at the Downing Street press conference on Monday, Dr Susan Hopkins said tier 1 restrictions had “very little effect” on the number of coronavirus cases.
Before the current four-week national lockdown, people in areas of England in tier 1 were allowed to socialise indoors in groups of up to six, including from different households. Under tiers 2 and 3 this was banned.
But Hopkins said: “We see very little effect from tier 1 and I think when we look at what tiers may be there in the future we will have to think about strengthening them in order to get us through the winter months until the vaccine is available for everyone.”
Hopkins is deputy director and healthcare epidemiologist consultant in infectious diseases and microbiology at PHE.
Boris Johnson has all but guaranteed the current national measures, which came into force on November 5, will end on December 2. The prime minister has said he wants to replace it with local restrictions.
But this does not necessarily mean a return to the previous system, and it has been reported a fourth more severe level could be added, or that an entirely new regional approach might be introduced.
Speaking alongside health secretary Matt Hancock, Hopkins added: “We have recognised that the tiering of the country has had a different effect in each area.
“Tier 3, and especially tier 3 plus in the north, has had an effect in reducing the numbers of cases in the north-west and we can see the north-west’s declining number of cases now.
“Tier 2 seems to hold in some areas and not so well in others, and so really it depends on how fast transmission is occurring and how well the individuals in the population are taking that advice in.”
And she said if the national lockdown in England was working and the public was “doing the best we can to have reduced or no social contact with other people” then “we will start to see cases decline over the next week”.
Hancock said it was “too early” to know the impact of the second lockdown in England on coronavirus cases.
“But we absolutely hope to be able to replace the national lockdown with a tiered system similar to what we had before,” he said.
On November 4, the last day before lockdown, scientists advising the government also warned ministers in a memo that post-lockdown measures would need to be tighter than what was then in place.