The foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, has refused to deny that ministers are considering introducing a higher tier 4 level of coronavirus restrictions, less than three weeks after the launch of the three-tier lockdown model.
Officials are reportedly drawing up plans for an extra layer of measures forcing restaurants and non-essential shops to close in parts of England with the highest infection rates.
Asked whether a new tier 4 was being considered, Raab told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday: “We’re always ready for further measures that we can take. But I think the most important thing about further measures is that we continue on the track we’re on of targeting the virus.”
Ministers are under increasing pressure to announce a nationwide circuit breaker as hospital admissions in badly hit parts of the country exceed the height of the first wave.
Raab, who is effectively Boris Johnson’s number two, insisted that the “overwhelming scientific advice” to the government was that local lockdowns “are the right way to go”.
He said the government was “striving to avoid” a second national lockdown despite France, Germany and Wales announcing similar countrywide measures in recent days.
He told Sky News that the idea of “a short, sharp circuit breaker is frankly something of an enigma” and that those calling for one had not set out the exit route from a national intervention.
The government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) advised five weeks ago that the government should urgently consider a nationwide two-week circuit breaker lockdown – similar to that in spring while keeping most schools open – but this was ignored at the time.
Raab said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “the overwhelming scientific advice to us is targeted measures are the right way to go if you take them and you’re committed to them”.
He added: “The arbitrariness of a blanket approach would be far worse than the effects of trying to be as targeted as possible” and that a localised approach was “fair” and “fits the natural justice that we’re focusing on the areas where the uptick is the greatest”.