Matt Hancock hints Leeds could move into Tier 2 later this week

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has appeared to suggest Leeds could move into Tier 2 later this week when coronavirus rates are assessed.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Hancock set out how London would have to move into Tier 3, the toughest restrictions, early due to rising infection.

But Mr Hancock seemed to hint that Leeds could be going the other ways into Tier 2 after months of being at the sharp end of the rules, following local leaders declaring it would be safe to do so.

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And he revealed a “test and dine” scheme was being trialled after being questioned by a Yorkshire Conservative MP.

In the Commons on Monday, Labour MP for Leeds Central MP Hilary Benn presented Mr Hancock with data on dropping infection rates in the city.

He said they had fallen from more than 400 cases per 100,000 to less than 140 today and the number of Covid patients in hospital had declined by 45 per cent in the last month.

And he said: “Does [Mr Hancock] accept that having assured areas that where they are placed in the tier system will depend on the effort they make to get the numbers down and Leeds has done a great job, that the credibility of that statement needs to be reflected in decisions about where the areas are then put when they show a dramatic reduction?”

Mr Hancock replied: “(He) has made a typically wise intervention ahead of the decision-making on Wednesday as to the wider tiering decisions for the rest of the country.”

Under Tier 2, pubs and restaurants could reopen, with households able to dine indoors together.

While outdoors, in areas such a beer gardens, households could mix in groups of up to six people and enjoy a sustantial meal.

Elmet and Rothwell Conservative MP Alec Shelbrooke said that although Mr Hancock had hinted Leeds could move into Tier 2, that hospitality businesses needed time to put that into place.

And Mr Hancock said any decision taken on Wednesday would be published on Thursday, before coming into force just past midnight on Saturday.

Christmas shoppers walk past a Coronavirus Tier 3 Very High Alert sign in Leeds, Yorkshire. Photo: PA

However despite the potential lifting of some restrictions in Leeds, it is expected the rest of West Yorkshire would not be released from Tier 3.

Councillors in Wakefield were told on this morning that Tier 3 is likely to remain in place until after Christmas at least.

Tom Stannard, the council’s corporate director for regeneration, told a scrutiny meeting that the measures were having an “obvious and immediate impact on the economy, particularly the retail and hospitality sectors”.

He added: “Although the Government has set out its intention to review those restrictions on a fortnightly basis, with the first of those review points being later this week, the expectation at the moment is West Yorkshire will stay in Tier 3.

“That’s because although cases are coming down and starting to plateau, they’re still at a level that’s in line with the government’s formula for (Tier 3).”

Tory MP Jason McCartney urged Mr Hancock in the Commons to use granular data.

He said: “My Colne Valley constituents now follow really closely the local data, and they can see that Covid rates are thankfully plummeting in Kirklees, thanks to the local action we’ve been taking. Can [Mr Hancock] confirm that he will be using this local data at a granular level later this week to decide whether my area can come out of Tier 3 restrictions?”

Mr Hancock simply replied: “Yes.”

While Keighley Conservative MP Robbie Moore said: “Temporary restrictions on London will be tough but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that most of the North of England has been in these extra measures for an enhanced period of time.”

He said: “Of course, this has had a detrimental impact on the hospitality sector, so will [Mr Hancock] consider the possibility of a ‘test and dine’ scheme so that we can try and get our pubs and restaurants back open as soon as possible?”

Mr Hancock replied: “A ‘test and dine’ scheme is something that we’re looking at to see what we can do to support the hospitality industry.”

Fellow West Yorkshire MP Barry Sheerman, however, called on the Health Secretary to think again on plans to relax rules over Christmas.

The Labour veteran MP for Huddersfield said: “My local hospitals in Huddersfield and Halifax are preparing for an awful surge after Christmas, at the very wrong time in January and February when we do not want that kind of pressure.”

But Mr Hancock said people “need to be careful and take personal responsibility to limit the spread over Christmas”, while earlier Downing Street said there were no plans to rescind the plans to allow families to form a bubble over the festive period.