Millions more people in England are set to be plunged into the pain of a Tier 3 lockdown after scientists warned the current rules are “not sufficient” to curb coronavirus.
Top Tory Robert Jenrick is aiming to finalise talks about moving West Yorkshire – population 2.3million – into the harshest rules.
And he refused to rule out moving London (9million) into Tier 3 at a later date.
But the Communities Secretary refused desperate pleas to rush England into a “circuit-breaker” or national lockdown seen in Wales or France – saying even though there were benefits, it would hurt the economy.
Some 8.7million people in England are already living under Tier 3 rules – which ban household meetups other than in open spaces and force pubs and bars to shut.
But today a damning study warns that between late September and October 16-25, the R number actually rose from 1.16 to 1.56 – despite more restrictions coming in.
The REACT study – one of many estimates of the R that contribute to the official figure – estimated the R number in London was a staggering 2.86.
The interim analysis by Imperial College London suggested there were around 96,000 new infections per day.
And it estimated the R number was above 2 in London, the South East, East of England and South West, despite none of those areas being in Tier 3.
Study author Prof Steven Riley said “current measures are not sufficient” and said “there would be genuine benefits to some kind of national policy.”
He told the BBC: “We could prevent the pattern in the South turning into the current pattern in the North and bring about a reversal in the North as quickly as possible.
“If we’re going to end up using those restrictions that have been brought in elsewhere in Europe today and yesterday… we should think about timing. And sooner is better than later for these.
“There has to be a change. The rate of growth that we’re seeing in these data is really quite rapid, so one way or another there has to be a change before Christmas.”
David Nabarro, the WHO’s Special Envoy on Covid, warned ministers must consider “whether or not to go for a nationwide repositioning as has happened in France, Germany and Ireland.”
He told BBC Radio 4: “It’s an integrated package of actions that’s going to be necessary now to try to reduce the rate of spread and to actually preserve as much functioning capacity, particularly in the health service, as possible.”
Dr Nabarro went on: “This virus is surging back fiercely and that’s why stronger nationwide restrictions are beginning to be adopted across quite a lot of Western Europe.”
But Mr Jenrick made clear he wanted to deal with the problem by expanding Tier 3.
Last night Nottinghamshire (1.2million people) became the latest region to be confirmed for Tier 3 – with far stricter rules than any other Tier 3 area.
They include a ban on shisha, banning off-licence alcohol sales after 9pm, and forcing a wider range of venues including nail bars to close.
Mr Jenrick today said talks are now ramping up with Leeds and West Yorkshire “to see if we can reach an agreement there” on Tier 3.
He said with local leaders “need to be speeded up”, telling Sky News: “We now want to move faster in those places so we can put in those measures that are needed.”
Asked if London could move into Tier 3 given the startling findings about the R rate, he said: “We haven’t taken those decisions. We are taking action in the places where the evidence very clearly shows the virus is strongest.
“That is predominantly today in the Midlands and the North.
“But if it’s required in other places then obviously we’ll follow the science and do the same.”
And he warned: “We’re moving into discussions with a number of other parts of the country as well.”
Mr Jenrick admitted “the virus is in a bad place on all parts of the country” and said “this really is on all of us, irrespective of where we’re living today”.
But he refused calls for a circuit-breaker or full national lockdown now – despite France locking down the country to deal with a second wave.
He said he would “keep all the options under review” but added: “We don’t want to create a second national lockdown. We know that has some effect on bearing down on the virus but we also know it’s immensely destructive in other regards.
“Despite the fact the virus is rising across the country, it is very concentrated in some places nonetheless. So that’s the way forward that we will continue to follow.”