The Andrew Marr Show returned this morning, and with it came an in-depth interview with the Prime Minister. It will surprise no one to hear that the bulk of the interview focused on the coronavirus, and Boris Johnson signalled throughout that the new year could see fresh restrictions being brought into place. He did not go into any detail about what measures could be introduced under a potential “Tier 5”, but it was clear enough that his 5pm Downing Street press conferences were not yet a thing of the past
BJ: It may be that we need to do things in the next few weeks that will be tougher in many parts of the country. I’m fully fully reconciled to that, and I bet the people of this country are fully reconciled to that… Alas, [the tiering system] is probably about to get tougher, but we’ll review it.
Boris said that we need to see if the “extra steps that we’ve all taken in Tier 4 areas are going to work in driving the virus down” and insisted that the Government has got to keep things “under constant review”.
Rather than a national lockdown then the Government’s preference appears to be for a tightening of the Tier system – probably because imposing another national lockdown would require Parliamentary consent. Johnson would not go into any detail on what these tighter restrictions might look like, but the Telegraph appears to have been briefed:
England could be back in lockdown by the middle of this month, Government sources suggested, prompting fears that it will be kept in a straitjacket until at least Easter.
The Telegraph understands that discussions in Government about the return of shielding have already begun, and a further announcement on school closures could come as soon as this week…
Whitehall sources told the Telegraph that discussions are under way about the return of shielding – telling vulnerable people to stay indoors – and whether that could also be extended to people in specific age groups, such as the over-70s.
Last month, the “clinically extremely vulnerable” were told they should stay at home if they live in Tier 4 areas, but the latest discussions could see the return of national shielding measures with a wider group of people told to shield.
Senior Whitehall sources said they expected more parts of the country to be put into Tier 4 which already covers 78% of the population.
Many will agree with Sir Desmond Swayne when he says:
“What more pain do they want to cause us? What are they going to stop us doing now? Close down essential shops and the takeaways?
“The whole thing is madness. It will be so ridiculous – what difference does it make if you are out in the fresh air for one hour or all day? It won’t make a blind bit of difference. It’s going beyond ridiculous.”
In an entirely predictable intervention, however, Kier Starmer called for new national restrictions to be implemented immediately. The Telegraph has more:
The Labour leader said the virus was “clearly out of control”, as he insisted that it was “no good the Prime Minister hinting that further restrictions are coming into place in a week, or two or three”.
“That delay has been the source of so many problems,” he said.
“So, I say bring in those restrictions now, national restrictions, within the next 24 hours.
“That has to be the first step towards controlling the virus.”
Stop Press: The Daily Mail is reporting that the Government’s ‘Covid-O’ committee, which makes decisions on lockdown restrictions, will meet today to decide on the next steps to take. Expect a Downing Street briefing at 5pm.