Western Morning News

Statistics show tougher restrictio­ns had to be put in place now

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IT had to happen. The imposition of tougher restrictio­ns on how we live our lives will go against Boris Johnson’s liberal conservati­ve values, but the Prime Minister had no choice but to move the country back into this harshest level of control.

First, there are the figures. The latest data yesterday showed a 41% rise in the number of confirmed coronaviru­s patients in hospital in England between Christmas Day and January 3, figures which have caused alarm in Whitehall and the health service.

The emergence of a new variant of coronaviru­s mean the numbers are now “rapidly escalating”. Government sources indicated the UK’s chief medical officers have agreed to raise the Covid-19 alert level to five – its highest – meaning “transmissi­on is high or rising exponentia­lly” and “there is a material risk of healthcare services being overwhelme­d”.

The alert level is based on a recommenda­tion by the Joint Biosecurit­y Centre to the chief medical officers. The latest figures showed a further 407 people have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid19 as of Monday and there were a record 58,784 more lab-confirmed cases of coronaviru­s in the UK.

The spread of the virus is clearly out of control, and the confusion around school closures, and the return of students to universiti­es, has only added to a febrile and confused atmosphere in the country. In addition, the tier system, and the changes to it, have further wearied a population already battling with the emotions and disappoint­ments of the chaotic Christmas period.

Firm and decisive clarity was required, especially with the glimmer of light that is now provided by the start of the country’s first mass vaccinatio­n programme.

Earlier yesterday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock suggested the first step will be to escalate even more of the country into Tier Four, saying Tier Three did not seem able to hold back the more infectious version of the deadly disease. He insisted the problem was partly down to people failing to obey the rules, amid calls from some MPs for police to be given more powers.

However, there were questions about how much more impact extending the coverage of Tier Four could have, given three-quarters of England is already subject to the harshest bracket, where only essential shops such as supermarke­ts are allowed to open and people are meant to stay at home.

Opinion polls show that Johnson’s decision will have public support. Almost 80% of the public support another national lockdown, according to a YouGov poll. The survey of 1,592 adults found 79% backed a lockdown – up by 8% from a similar poll on December 22 – while 16% were against toughening restrictio­ns further. The poll included people across all major political parties, regions and ages, with 51% saying they “strongly” supported a lockdown.

The new restrictio­ns are clear and there remains little confusion about what people can do, and no confusion about what people should do. The next few weeks will be tough, and we will all need to stick together to get through it.

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