Every hospital in England risks being overwhelmed by coronavirus cases if the new, tougher tier system is not introduced, Michael Gove has said as the government faces a potentially 70-strong rebellion from within its ranks.
Writing in the Times on Saturday, the Cabinet Office minister urged MPs to “take responsibility for difficult decisions” to stop the spread of the virus. Backbenchers have expressed their anger at 99% of England being put in the top two tiers when lockdown ends on 2 December.
Those in tiers 2 and 3 face a ban on indoor households mixing and a hit to the hospitality industry. Only the the Isle of Wight, Cornwall, and the Isles of Scilly will be in the most relaxed tier 1 band.
Areas in the Midlands, north-east and north-west England will once more face the toughest tier 3 measures before Christmas, and there are reports that the rules could be in place until Easter.
Senior sources reportedly told Sky News that scientific advisers have said that even if coronavirus vaccinations begin in earnest by the end of January, things will not begin to return to normal until April.
A source close to the matter told the broadcaster: “This has been the running assumption. If you think that vaccines will start going in arms in large numbers at the end of January, it will be Easter by the time life changes properly, and there would be restrictions until then.
“The government has also been very clear that the restrictions will go to January and beyond.”
Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, echoed Gove’s message on Saturday, calling on the government to “take precautions now” to avoid chaos in hospitals in January, which is “always the NHS’s busiest time of year”.
Appearing on BBC Breakfast, Hopson said there were high numbers of emergencies at the beginning of every year, with people slipping on ice and breaking bones, and this, combined with high numbers of coronavirus infections, could be disastrous for the NHS.
“So what we’d say to MPs is, just think forward, think what it might be like in January, and you need to take the precautions now to ensure that the NHS doesn’t get overwhelmed at what is always its busiest time of year,” he said.
Many MPs have questioned the new system’s effectiveness and asked to see a detailed analysis weighing up the costs and benefits of the tiers.
Iain Duncan Smith, the Conservative MP for Chingford and Woodford Green, wrote on Twitter: “What was the point of the lockdown if, as we come out, we end up with tighter restrictions than before lockdown? We aren’t even waiting to learn what the effect of the lockdown has been before rushing into these changes.
“MP’s have called for a full cost/benefit analysis to be published, to show what evidence for stricter rules and the effect of these decision will be on lives and livelihoods in every constituency. The government must come clean and do this now or lose not just many of their MPs but the public as well.”