Further coronavirus restrictions could be introduced in England akin to a “tier 5” lockdown, a government source has suggested, as experts warn the current curbs might not be enough to shrink the epidemic.
Tier 4 restrictions came into force in London and parts of the south-east and the east of England on 20 December and have since been extended to a swathe of the country, from Cambridgeshire to Sussex and parts of Hampshire.
Under these restrictions, people have been told to stay at home, with household mixing banned outside support bubbles, although one person can meet up with one other person outdoors.
With the incubation period for the virus lasting up to 14 days, experts say the impact of such measures in some areas might be expected to be seen in the coming days.
However, an analysis of the spread of the new, highly transmissible coronavirus variant by experts at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, released this month, warned that even if the whole of England were placed under tier 4 restrictions on Boxing Day until the end of January, the R value would not fall below 1.
Now, it seems, there could be plans to introduce even stricter measures to try to keep the virus under control.
According to the Mirror, a Whitehall source has said the tier 4 rules do not appear to be working, adding that the government could introduce “another level on to tier 4, so like a tier 5”.
UK number of deaths
While no details have been released as to what such a tier could look like, or whether it would even be called “tier 5”, one possibility is that the tighter measures could include closing schools for the majority of pupils and moving education online.
“I can’t see any other option for getting the virus under control,” said Prof Susan Michie, a member of the government’s Covid-19 behavioural science team that feeds into Sage, as well as the Independent Sage group of experts – although she noted that she had not heard any direct evidence such a move was to be made.
Dr Michael Tildesley, of the University of Warwick, who is part of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, which also feeds into Sage, said he had not heard anything about a “tier 5” but that it seems likely that if any extra measures were taken, these might include schools and universities closing.
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“In terms of tier 4, it doesn’t appear to be effective in those parts of the country where the new variant is circulating, but we will learn more over the next week or so,” he said.
The move to close schools has been backed by Dr Nick Davies, another member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling and an author of the recent analysis.
“If our parameter estimates are correct … it seems like [tier 4] alone isn’t enough, so something else might need to be done on top of that. And we’ve looked at school closures because that’s sort of the next obvious thing to do on top of those restrictions,” he said, although he added that the evidence around schools closing is unclear.
Schools closed for the majority of pupils during the first lockdown in the spring, while the other restrictions included the edict to venture outside only once a day for exercise, leave home only for essentials, and for all non-essential shops and places of worship to close.