Covid: Regional tier system may not return after lockdown, Boris Johnson says

The regional approach to coronavirus restrictions may not return. Credit: PA

The regional tier system for England's coronavirus measures may not return after lockdown ends, the prime minister has said.

Boris Johnson said it may be more appropriate to ease measures on a national basis "this time around", rather than locally as had been the plan, due to the way Covid-19 is currently "behaving".

In a few weeks he will set out a "road map" for exiting lockdown, with March 8 targeted as the earliest possible date for reopening schools and easing other measures.

Following the last lockdown, England returned to tiered arrangements which restricted activities permitted in an area depending on various criteria, such as pressure on local NHS services and levels of coronavirus.

The system was widely criticised as not being strong enough to sufficiently bring down the R number (reproduction rate) of the virus and England was plunged back into national lockdown weeks later as coronavirus cases surged again.

Mr Johnson told reporters in Batley, West Yorkshire: "It may be that a national approach, going down the tiers in a national way, might be better this time round, given that the disease is behaving much more nationally.

England was previously divided into tier systems, with each alert level having different coronavirus restrictions. Credit: PA

"If you look at the way the new variant has taken off across the country, it's a pretty national phenomenon.

"The charts I see, we're all sort of moving pretty much in the same sort of way, I mean there are a few discrepancies, a few differences, so it may be that we will go for a national approach but there may be an advantage still in some regional differentiation as well. I'm keeping an open mind on that."

Ministers had previously said they expected a return to a regional tiers system, with Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick saying, as recently as January 27, that "it's sensible that we target restrictions on those places where the virus is most prevalent".

It is the government's aim to vaccinate the 15 million people most vulnerable to coronavirus by February 15, when a review of Covid-19 data will take place, with a view to lifting some restrictions.

Then, on the week beginning February 22, the government will "set out our plan for the gradual easing of restrictions based on the evidence reviewed", according to the PM's spokesman.

Mr Johnson earlier revealed "virtually all" of England's care home residents had now been vaccinated, providing hope that the UK will achieve its mid-February target.

The PM said the rollout “will only accelerate from here on”, after the daily number of jabs administered in the UK exceeded 500,000 for the first time.He played down fears about vaccines being ineffective against variant coronavirus, saying ministers are "confident that all the vaccines that we are using provide a high degree of immunity and protection against all variants".

He said the vaccines could be adapted to deal with new variants if necessary.

"The fact is we are going to be living with Covid for a while to come in one way or another, I don't think it will be as bad as the last 12 months - or anything like - of course, but it's very, very important that our vaccines continue to develop and to adapt, and they will," he said.

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