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Covid: Regional rules ‘probably going to get tougher’, says Boris Johnson

Covid: Regional rules 'probably going to get tougher', says Boris Johnson thumbnail

Publishedduration7 minutes agomedia captionBoris Johnson: Hints at Covid tier system ‘getting tougher’Regional restrictions in England are “probably about to get tougher” to curb rising Covid infections, the prime minister has warned.Boris Johnson told the BBC stronger measures may be required in parts of the country in the coming weeks.He said this included the possibility of…

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media captionBoris Johnson: Hints at Covid tier system ‘getting tougher’

Regional restrictions in England are “probably about to get tougher” to curb rising Covid infections, the prime minister has warned.

Boris Johnson told the BBC stronger measures may be required in parts of the country in the coming weeks.

He said this included the possibility of keeping schools closed, although this is not “something we want to do”.

But he added ministers had to be “realistic” about the spread of the new variant of the virus.

Mr Johnson said the government was “entirely reconciled to doing what it takes to get the virus down” and warned of a “tough period ahead”.

It comes as the UK recorded a further 54,990 confirmed coronavirus cases on Sunday and an additional 454 deaths within 28 days of a positive test result.

Speaking on BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Johnson said he stuck by his previous prediction that the situation would be better by the spring, and he hoped “tens of millions” would be vaccinated in the next three months.

But he added: “It may be that we need to do things in the next few weeks that will be tougher in many parts of the country. I’m fully, fully reconciled to that.”

“And I bet the people of this country are reconciled to that because, until the vaccine really comes on stream in a massive way, we’re fighting this virus with the same set of tools.”

He added that ministers had taken “every reasonable step that we reasonably could” to prepare for winter, but “could not have reasonably predicted” the new, more transmissible variant of the virus that has emerged over the autumn.

School closures row

The prime minister also defended plans for primary schools to reopen in most of England on Monday, amid opposition from teaching unions and some local councils.

Primaries will stay closed to most pupils until 18 January in London and some surrounding areas, but are due to reopen in other areas of England from next week.

The country’s secondary schools are due to stagger their return – with pupils due to take exams this year asked to return on 11 January, and other year groups returning in person on 18 January.

Mr Johnson said it was sensible for primaries to reopen in a “large majority” of England and there was “no doubt in my mind that schools are safe”.

Unions are telling primary school staff it is unsafe to return to work and are calling for remote learning to be introduced across all primary schools.

However Amanda Spielman, the head of Ofsted, England’s schools watchdog, said closures should be kept to an “absolute minimum”.

The rapidly rising infection rates mean it should come as no surprise that tougher measures are being considered.

Infection levels are nearly four times higher now than they were at the start of December – and that in turn has put more pressure on hospitals.

There are signs the restrictions have started slowing the rises in London, the East of England and the South East.

But that on its own is not enough. Ministers want to get cases down.

So what extra can be done? After all most of England is effectively in lockdown already with tier four in place. Those places not in tier four could, of course, follow.

But some public health experts are warning more needs to be done.

There is a determination to get primary school children back – they have among the lowest rates of infection if you look at symptomatic cases.

But infection rates are higher among secondary school age children. The government has bought itself time by delaying their return.

A further 20 million people in England were added to tier four – “stay at home” – the toughest set of rules, on 31 December in a bid to stem a surge in Covid cases.

It means 78% of the population of England is now in tier four, under which non-essential shops are closed and people can only leave their homes for a certain number of reasons.

Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have all introduced new lockdowns.

The Scottish government will meet on Monday to consider “further action” to limit the spread of the disease, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said.

She added that the “rapid increase in Covid cases driven by the new variant” was of “very serious concern”.

Meanwhile, an academic has said there is a “big question mark” over whether a vaccine developed at Oxford University will be as effective against a new variant of the virus that has emerged in South Africa.

Prof Sir John Bell, Regius professor of medicine at the university, said the team there were currently investigating this question “right now”.

He added it was “unlikely” the variant would “turn off the effect of vaccines entirely,” and in any case it would be possible to tweak the vaccine in around 4-6 weeks.

“Everybody should stay calm – it’s going to be fine,” he told Times Radio.

“But we’re now in a game of cat and mouse – because these are not the only two variants we’re going to see”.

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