Regional tier system will not return, Matt Hancock pledges

Regional coronavirus tiers will not return, Matt Hancock has pledged, after swathes of the North were kept under the strictest of measures for months last year.

Matt Hancock. Photo: PA

The Health Secretary made the commitment in the Commons today, and it comes after many – including Labour Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis and the influential Northern Research Group of Tory MPs – had urged the Government to not return to the system.

Before the third national lockdown was imposed, different tiers were in place in different parts of the country with varying restrictions, with different areas moving in and out of tiers on a fortnightly basis.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

But Mr Hancock yesterday ruled out a regional approach to ending the current lockdown.

Labour’s Ben Bradshaw, MP for Exeter said: “With Covid rates in Devon now down to just 31 per 100,000 and with all the vulnerable groups due to have been vaccinated by the end of this month, what will be the justification for keeping my constituents locked down and local businesses closed through Easter and beyond because rates somewhere else happen to be higher?”

And Mr Hancock replied: “We obviously had a tiered system over the autumn.

“One of the challenges we found was people travelling from part of the country where rates are higher to those where they are lower.

“So whilst we don’t rule out a localised approach to outbreaks, we are going to move down the road map as a nation across England.”

Mr Hancock also revealed that one in four people in England are now estimated to have antibodies against Covid-19.

He told the Commons: “This morning, the Office for National Statistics published new data on the levels of protection people have.

“They show that up to February 11, one in four people are estimated to have antibodies against coronavirus in England, up from one in five.

“The levels are highest in the over-80s, the first group to be vaccinated, showing again the protection from the vaccine across the country.”

He told MPs: “This country is on the road to recovery and we have freedom on the horizon, we must proceed with caution because although we’re moving quickly, the virus moves quickly too.

“So let’s not waver and do whatever it takes to keep this virus under control.”

But Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth said: “We also know that the virus can quickly rebound and that mutations could evade vaccination.

“We are in a race against evolution, so we have a long way to go. To be frank, nowhere is Covid-safe until everywhere is Covid-safe.

“None of us wants to yo-yo in and out of lockdowns.”

He urged Mr Hancock to base his decisions on data, not dates, as has been promised and to ease the lockdown gradually.