MORE of England is set for Tier 4 as early as Boxing Day after the new coronavirus strain spread "everywhere".
Ministers and medics met on Tuesday night after the mutant Covid strain was detected in parts of the South West, Midlands and the North – areas all currently in Tier 2 or 3.
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Which areas are in Tier 4?
Surrey (excluding Waverley)
The boroughs of Gosport, Havant, Portsmouth, Rother and Hastings
All 32 London boroughs and the city of London.
Bedford, Central Bedfordshire, Milton Keynes, Luton, Peterborough
Essex (excluding Colchester, Uttlesford and Tendring).
Which Tier 2 and Tier 3 areas have the highest infection rates?
Places in Tier 2 and Tier 3 with the highest infection rates:
Burnley, Tier 3: 438 cases per 100,000
Lincoln, Tier 3: 409 cases per 100,000
Boston, Tier 3: 406 cases per 100,000
Rushmoor, Tier 2: 378 cases per 100,000
Stoke-on-Trent, Tier 3: 341 cases per 100,000
Pendle, Tier 3: 338 cases per 100,000
Rugby, Tier 3: 337 cases per 100,000
East Staffordshire, Tier 3: 331 cases per 100,000
West Lindsey, Tier 3: 323 cases per 100,000
Wealden, Tier 2: 323 cases per 100,000
Uttlesford, Tier 2: 313 cases per 100,000
Wolverhampton, Tier 3: 300 cases per 100,000
Places in Tier 4 with the lowest infection rates:
Gosport: 159 cases per 100,000
Chiltern: 202 cases per 100,000
North Hertfordshire: 232 cases per 100,000
Welwyn Hatfield: 248 cases per 100,000
Mole Valley: 255 cases per 100,000
Guildford: 260 cases per 100,000
Windsor and Maidenhead: 273 cases per 100,000
Dacorum: 277 cases per 100,000
West Berkshire: 278 cases per 100,000
Wokingham: 300 cases per 100,000
East Hertfordshire: 305 cases per 100,000
Stevenage: 312 cases per 100,000
In a separate No10 briefing last night, the Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said it was likely that measures would "need to be increased" outside of current Tier 4 regions.
The new variant of the virus is focused in the South East and East of England, but has spread to all corners of the UK.
And The Sun has learnt more Tier 4 zones could be introduced as early as Boxing Day.
In a clear indication millions of Brits should prepare for the toughest of restrictions, Sir Patrick said: "[The strain is] more transmissible, we've absolutely got to make sure we've got the right level of restrictions in place.
"I think it is likely that this will grow in numbers of the variant across the country, and I think its likely therefore that measures are going to need to be increased in some places, not reduced."
An announcement on which areas face the clampdown could come as soon as tomorrow – with the measures to kick in immediately after Christmas.
The Tier review was due to be reviewed on December 30, but fears the mutant strain is now “everywhere” meant it was brought forward.
The Sun understands a "Gold Command" meeting of public health chiefs and ministers was meeting on Tuesday evening to sign off expanding the hardest lockdown measures beyond London and the South East.
Health sources said it would not affect all of England "but there are many areas that need tougher measures and are seeing dramatic cases numbers."
Already a third of the country are in Tier 4 – the new highest level of restrictions like lockdown.
'THIS WILL SPREAD MORE'
In a grave warning, Sir Patrick added: "I think it is a case that this will spread more."
He said it was already "everywhere", as data shows the strain accounts for around 30 per cent of new cases in England.
It followed the Health Secretary Matt Hancock warning on Sunday the new strain was "out of control", while suggesting tougher restrictions would be needed to manage it until the spring.
Some 18 million people in London and the South East were plunged into Tier 4 on Sunday morning, given "stay at home" orders by the Prime Minister – even over Christmas.
But several other parts of the country appear at risk with higher infection rates.
Burnley, in Lancashire, has the highest Tier 3 infection rate, at 438 cases per 100,000 in the week to December 17.
It's four times higher than Gosport, in Hampshire, which has the lowest cases of all Tier 4 areas, at just 159 per 100,000.
Boston and Lincoln, both in Lincolnshire and under Tier 3, each have around 400 cases per 100,000 people.
But it's Rushmoor, on the border of locked down Surrey, that is of the most concern.
It's under Tier 2 but with an infection rate of 378 cases per 100,000 people – higher than at least 22 Tier 4 areas.
Also on the list of at-risk areas are Stoke-on-Trent and East Staffordshire, which each have more than 300 cases per 100,000, according to PA analysis of Public Health England data.
By comparison, Tier 4 areas are reporting lower cases of 202 per 100,000 in Chiltern, 232 in North Hertfordshire, 248 in Welwyn Hatfield and 255 in Mole Valley.
Infection rates are just one measure the Government consider for tier levels. They also look at NHS capacity and how cases have changed.
Crawley in Sussex, in Tier 2, has seen cases rise almost five-fold since the start of December, MailOnline reported.
And Eden, in Cumbria, reported a similar increase. Yesterday, public health chiefs revealed a hotspot of the new coronavirus strain in Cumbria was "being investigated".
The Tier 4 region is surrounded by Tier 2 areas, raising questions over how the virus can be contained.
Sir Patrick said: "It's localised in some places but we know there are cases everywhere, so it's not as though we can stop this getting into other places."
At the Downing Street briefing last night, the Prime Minister repeated that tiers were under constant review when asked by David from Portsmouth why Tier 4 restrictions were not applied as a blanket ban on movement for the whole of south-east England.
Boris Johnson said: “All I can say is we have to act on the basis of the epidemiology as we see it.
“We looked at where the new variant was, where it was spreading and acted to restrict it there, and, of course, we will keep those measures under review every couple of weeks.”
Meanwhile, leaders have called for answers on why Tier 4 areas with low case rates have been dealt such a huge blow days before Christmas.
Parts of Hampshire were bizarrely lumped into the toughest restrictions this weekend, despite Gosport's cases being 10 times lower than England's Covid hotspot, Thurrock.
Gosport Borough Council's leader said he "can't understand" why the area has been moved into Tier 4, the BBC reported.
Portsmouth City Council said it was given "no warning" ahead of the Prime Ministers press briefing on Saturday night.
The next review of the Tiered system isn't until December 30, when officials consider not only the infection rate of each area, but the cases in over 60s and NHS bed capacity.
Tier 4 could be extended across the country
Public health leaders have warned that the mutated form of Covid is already sweeping across the UK.
Dr Susan Hopkins, Public Health England, said every other region in England has had cases detected in small numbers and risk seeing a similar explosion if infections are allowed to spread further.
She told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “It has also been detected in Wales, in Scotland, we have not had any detected in Northern Ireland.”
The new variant is “effectively seeded” across Wales and was a factor in the rapid rise of cases there, the country's health minister Vaughan Gething told BBC News on Sunday.
Where are Covid cases highest?
The following areas have the highest infection rates.
From left to right, it reads: name of local authority; rate of new cases in the seven days to December 17; number (in brackets) of new cases recorded in the seven days to December 17; rate of new cases in the seven days to December 10; number (in brackets) of new cases recorded in the seven days to December 10.
Thurrock, Tier 4, 1178.7, (2055), 435.9, (760)
Havering, Tier 4, 1123.5, (2916), 547.1, (1420)
Epping Forest, Tier 4, 1078.3, (1420), 448.8, (591)
Basildon, Tier 4, 1055.0, (1975), 650.6, (1218)
Medway, Tier 4, 1037.1, (2889), 641.2, (1786)
Brentwood, Tier 4, 993.2, (765), 418.1, (322)
Redbridge, Tier 4, 965.5, (2947), 445.9, (1361)
Swale, Tier 4, 940.2, (1411), 675.0, (1013)
Rochford, Tier 4, 931.7, (814), 298.7, (261)
Barking and Dagenham, Tier 4, 900.9, (1918), 442.9, (943)
The Health Secretary said it would be "very difficult" to keep the deadly bug under control without the vaccine having been widely administered.
The Pfizer/BioNTechvaccine is currently being rolled out across the country with hopes the 25million vulnerable adults will be vaccinated by Easter.
But so far only half a million people have been given their first dose.
Mr Hancock admitted the new variant – which early analysis shows is 70 per cent more infectious – was "out of control".
Speaking to Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Mr Hancock yesterday said: "The cases in the Tier 4 areas have absolutely skyrocketed in the last few days, two weeks or so. We have got a long way to go to sort this.
"We've essentially got to get that vaccine."
When pushed over whether Brits in Tier 4 areas would remain in lockdown into the new year – despite a review expected on December 30 – Mr Hancock said: "Given how much faster this new variant spreads, it's going to be very difficult to keep it under control until we have the vaccine."
Speaking about the new strain of the virus, Professor Openshaw of Imperial College London, a member of Nervtag, told The Times: "It’s very unlikely anything less than really effective measures are going to control it.
"My concern is people are not going to comply. It’s really important people appreciate the danger.
"It does seem inevitable it will spread but it doesn’t mean it’s useless trying to prevent that from happening."
He added that it may be "necessary to extend" the Tier 4 restrictions further into England as the virus spreads.
After the Downing Street briefing on Saturday, Prof Jonathan Stoye said he didn't understand why Tier 4 was only imposed on part of the country.
Prof Stoye, Retrovirus-Host Interactions Laboratory, The Francis Crick Institute, said: “I’m not certain that I understand the rationale of a partial imposition of Tier 4 rules.
"If enhanced restrictions are required to control the spread of the variant, why aren’t they being imposed across the whole country?"
He said if the variant had spread fast across the Southeast while it was under Tier 2 and 3 restrictions, it could do so in other parts of the UK which now have small numbers of cases.
The PM was forced to put swathes of the south into Tier 4 on the back of scientific evidence the new strain, called VUI2020/01, was spreading rapidly.
Data shows cases are soaring across these parts of the country.
Cases per 100,000 people have tripled in just one week in Thurrock, Essex, the "hotspot" of England.
The authority recorded 2,055 new cases in the seven days to December 17 – the equivalent of 1,179 cases per 100,000 people. This is up from 436 in the seven days to December 10.
Basildon, also in Essex, has seen cases rise from 651 cases per 100,000 to 1,055.
Infections have doubled in Havering, the second Covid hotspot in England, and Redbridge – both in London.
Havering's cases are now 1,124 per 100,000, up from 547, while Redbridge has 993, up from 446.
Overall 90 per cent of England has seen a rise in infection rates in the most recent week, to December 17.
Only 30 of the 315 areas have seen cases fall, making up 10 per cent, and just one region remains unchanged.
And yesterday, coronavirus cases grew by 65 per cent in a week, after another 33,364 infections were recorded.
Sunday saw the biggest daily increase yet in UK coronavirus cases – doubling in just a week.
A shocking 35,928 infections were recorded in 24 hours – a 95 per cent increase on last Sunday's daily infection figures that saw 18,447 cases recorded.
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