A letter from Boris Johnson’s chief strategic adviser to MPs in the North West of England seen by the BBC states “it is very likely that certain local areas will face further restrictions”.
A three-tier system will see areas face differing rules based on case severity.
It comes as a doctors’ union calls for clearer and more stringent rules.
Under the new restrictions, pubs and restaurants could be closed in parts of northern England and the Midlands – where some of the highest numbers of cases are occurring – while a ban on overnight stays is also being considered.
It is understood that the most severe measures – imposed for areas in tier three – would be agreed with local leaders in advance.
The details of each tier, including the level of infection at which an area would qualify for it and the nature of the restrictions, are being debated this weekend.
The letter to the MPs from Downing Street adviser Sir Edward Lister says the government is hoping to “finalise these details as soon as possible” amid “rising incidence in parts of the country”.
It also cites the “engagement that is taking place today and during the course of the weekend with local authority leaders in your region”.
Sir Edward says the set of measures being discussed “present difficult choices. We must seek to strike the right balance between driving down transmission, and safeguarding our economy and society from the worst impact”.
In the face of pressure from MPs, elected mayors and council leaders, the prime minister has signalled he wants “much closer engagement” with local politicians.
As a senior government source said, they will bring “expertise on what will work in their regions”.
The hope is for “top tier” restrictions in the new multi-level system to be agreed between the government and local leaders in advance.
There is an acknowledgement from inside government that this marks a change in approach. It is a shift away from what Labour described as a “Whitehall knows best” attitude.
It will allow local politicians, some of whom until now have complained of being frozen out, to have a greater input.
But it will also mean they are accountable, alongside government ministers, for the success or failure of the measures introduced.
They will have to share the responsibility, perhaps blame, if measures don’t work or prove unpopular.
And amid calls for clarity, it seems the new tiered system could vary region by region, making clear national messaging more difficult.
Susan Hopkins, deputy director of Public Health England’s national infection service, said the number of cases was rising all over the country, but more quickly in the North East, North West and Yorkshire and Humber than the South.
She said it was concerning that cases were rising “quite fast” in pockets of north-west England among the over-60s, the group most likely to need to be admitted to hospital.
A number of areas in the North West, the North East and the Midlands are already subject to stricter restrictions. A tiered system of measures is designed to replace the patchwork of existing rules across the country.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions there needed to be “greater freedom for local areas to design measures for themselves”.
He said there was “a merit to simplicity”, adding that in local areas “local leaders will know best”.
Liverpool’s Labour Mayor Joe Anderson said he expected Liverpool – where there are currently 600 cases per 100,000 people – to be placed in tier three, under the highest set of restrictions.
He told the BBC’s Today programme he understood this would involve the lockdown of all the city’s pubs from Wednesday,
Asked what his role would be in setting the restrictions, he said there had been conversation with Downing Street, but no consultation.
It was clear the decisions had already been made, he said, but they were listening to his suggestions about how spikes in the city could best be dealt with.
Martin Gannon, Labour leader of Gateshead Council, said there had been “warm words” in a meeting with civil servants but ultimately the laws would be made by government.
He said he would oppose any further restrictions placed on the North East, saying they could be “counter-productive” and lead to resistance from the public. Current measures were starting to bring down case numbers, he insisted, and the government needed to help local authorities win people’s confidence.
Meanwhile, the British Medical Association (BMA) said the government’s measures to reduce the spread of the Covid had not worked, given the uncontrolled escalation, and has made its own recommendations.
Chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: “The infection has risen following rapid relaxation of measures and with the Westminster government letting down its guard – as recently as August, the government was encouraging people to travel, go to work and mix in restaurants and pubs.”
The BMA recommends:
- Replacing the current “rule of six” with a rule that only two households can meet and not exceed six
- Mandatory wearing of masks in all office and working environments
- Wearing masks in all outdoor settings where two-metre distancing is not possible
- Providing financial support to businesses to make premises Covid secure, with clear rules on what that means
- Providing free medical grade masks to the over-60s and vulnerable groups
- Providing free masks to those who are exempt from prescription charges and make them available in all public places for a small charge
- Giving more detailed information on local infection rates on the NHS Test and Trace app
Next week, the government will review restrictions in West Yorkshire, according to a joint statement from the leaders of the county’s councils.
They said that, in a meeting with senior government officials, they argued for investment in local contact tracing and “sustained business and community engagement” – which they said had been “previously overlooked” by the government – as well as support for businesses affected by the restrictions.
“To avoid further measures being put in place we will need to ensure social distancing, self-isolation and other measures are being followed, and we have made clear that to do this effectively we need more support for our communities,” they said.