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Housing Secretary confirms COVID tiers could last for months as he defends the new restrictions

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has defended the new tier system in England despite a backlash from areas moved into the toughest restrictions.

Speaking to Ben Shephard and Kate Garraway about the strong reaction to the decision from certain parts of the country, he said: “I know it’s very difficult but we wanted to design the tiers in such a way that we were confident that they would actually work and do the job."

"The tiers that we had before the November national measures we learnt were probably not strong enough. So tier one didn’t have much of an impact, tier two had some impact, it helped to slow the rate of infection from rising but it didn’t really help to decisively turn it downwards and tier three was working in some parts of the country, you saw in Liverpool, for example, but not everywhere and we wanted to make sure that tier three again would not just slow the rise but start to bring it down." 

He continued: “The new tiers that we have designed, with the help of our scientific advisors, are ones which we think are strong enough, if everybody does their bit and abides by the rules, to ensure that we don’t need to have another national lockdown and that we can help to steer the country through the last few months before the vaccine is rolled out…”

Mr Jenrick explained why some counties are in a worse tier post lockdown despite a falling number of cases.

“The evidence suggested that the tiers we were having before the national measures in Nov weren’t quite strong enough, so that meant we were constantly playing catch up. Places were going up the tiers and what we want to do is have a tiered system which means that if everything goes well, places should be going down the tiers not going up them. There will be a review point on the 16th December which is going to be a meaningful review point at which many places may be able to come down.”

Asked if the reviews will be more district-based rather than county-based and why they haven’t published the data behind the decisions, he said: “We have published the five tests that we are using and we have published the reasons why different places have fallen into the tiers that they have been allocated to."

"The point you are making about the unit of geography that we are using is an important one and we have considered that at length. Each local authority area will be considered on its own merits at each of the review points, but you also have to take into account whether or not that is the sensible thing to do because the virus doesn’t respect the boundaries of your local district council or even your county. It spreads easily and freely and people can move around to go to hospital, school and work.”

On the rebellion amongst his own MPs and those saying they won’t vote for it, he said: “We have committed to the parliamentary process and it’s important that MPs have their say on this. It will be debated and voted on… but I hope we can persuade our parliamentary colleagues that this is the right thing to do… I think what has changed, and this is really important, is of course the advent of the vaccines and we can all see there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Asked if he would hug an elderly relative following Chris Whitty’s warning, he said: “I am very pleased that we have been able to agree across the whole of the United Kingdom a legal framework which says that you can come together with family and friends in a limited way for a certain number of days, but it doesn’t mean you have to do that. It’s a personal judgement…"

“I am having those conversations with my mum and dad, they are both older people, they have been shielding at different times. I have got young kids who will find it difficult to socially distance when they would love to hug and kiss their grandparents… We are going to be having a conversation and come to our own conclusion. It might be that unfortunately we choose to do things quite differently this Christmas to the ones we have had in the past because we don’t want to put anyone at risk when we are so close to them being vaccinated. But those are personal choices that different families will come to different conclusions on.”

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