Foreign secretary Dominic Raab has refused to rule out the introduction of new “tier 4” coronavirus restrictions for England following dire warnings about the rising number of infections.
Reports indicate that Boris Johnson’s government is considering plans for a full, national lockdown before Christmas following a “very bleak” briefing from its top scientific advisers.
Mr Raab insisted the government wanted to stick with its current approach based on local restrictions — but did not deny that even tougher measures for the worst-hit areas were now under discussion.
Asked whether Downing Street could bring in a higher tier 4 level like Scotland, the cabinet minister told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We’re always ready for further measures 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.
“We do think the situation is serious,” Mr Raab added. “Having said that, we’re confident we’ve got the right measures and framework in place … We’re battling a second wave, and we’re going to do everything we can in a targeted and focused way to repress and bring those numbers back down.”
Criticising the idea of a “blunt” nationwide lockdown, Mr Raab said the public would find it “desperately unfair” to impose one while infection rates vary across the country.
He told BBC’s Breakfast: “I think in areas where the virus is not picking up, I think people would feel it was not only counterproductive or ineffective but desperately unfair for measures to be imposed across the board.”
The minister said sticking with local restrictions was “the right thing to do”, however tough they might need to become. “The science backs that up. The overwhelming scientific advice to us is that targeted measures are the right way to go.”
England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam reportedly told ministers on Thursday that the rise in hospital admissions made the situation look “very, very bleak”. Mr Van-Tam also said he was beginning to change his mind on the effectiveness of local interventions, according to The Telegraph.
The newspaper said Downing Street is now considering bringing in a full lockdown for England on either side of Christmas — with only a brief holiday window so people can meet family.
Other reports suggest the tier 4 option could see only essential shops and schools remaining open in affected areas, while travel would be limited to getting to work.
Mr Raab said he would not comment on the latest briefing to protect “the integrity of those discussions”.
Asked about next week’s US election, the foreign secretary suggested it did not matter to the UK government whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden won.
“We’re exceptionally well placed, given our values, given what we do in practice — from security and intelligence through to climate change and trade — to make sure that whoever is in the White House that the relationship between Britain and the US will thrive,” he said.