Majority of people in England to live under strictest Covid-19 curbs from Saturday

MP says move will be ‘greeted with dismay’ in Greater Manchester as most areas are below average rate

More than two out of three people in England will be living under the highest level of coronavirus restrictions from Saturday after measures were tightened in more counties in the southeast of the country.

Most of the rest of the country will be under an intermediate tier of restrictions, with only 2 per cent of the population facing the mildest social distancing measures.

Health secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons that the government was obliged to act after infections in the southeast rose by 46 per cent in the past week and hospital admissions went up by a third.

“I know that Tier 3 measures are tough. But the best way for everyone to get out of them is to pull together: not just to follow the rules but do everything they possibly can to stop the spread of the virus,” he said.


“Where we’ve seen places get the virus under control and come out of Tier 3, it’s where everyone has taken responsibility on themselves to make that happen.”

Only two regions moved down a tier, despite some places in the north of England, which have been under tough restrictions, reporting lower infection rates. Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers, asked what his Manchester constituency of Trafford needed to do to see an easing of measures.

“The statement will be greeted with dismay in Greater Manchester where we have had severe restrictions for nine months, where in nine of the 10 boroughs rates are below the national average,” he said.

"My constituents have behaved responsibly and that our rates are lower than they are in neighbouring Warrington or in neighbouring Cheshire, which have been put into Tier 2, and are also lower than they are in Bristol - which has been moved from Tier 3 to Tier 2 today. What exactly do we have to do to move out of Tier 3?"

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said the government's policy appeared to demand that "when cases rise in the north, the north goes under restrictions but when cases rise in London and the southeast, everyone stays under restrictions".

Four days after the new tiers come into force, the whole of England, along with the rest of the United Kingdom, will see an easing of restrictions on household mingling for Christmas. For five days from next Wednesday, up to three households will be allowed to meet in one another's homes, an easing medical experts have warned could lead to a surge in infections.

"We saw in Canada and the US huge spikes in infections following Thanksgiving. We will see a spike here," Labour's shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said.

“The devastating tragedy is that those who will be most impacted by this virus spreading through the easing are those who would be at the front of queue for the vaccine in the next month or two.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times