Minister ‘Hopes’ Restrictions Can Be Lifted by March…to Be Replaced by Tiers Again

MANCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 13: Political graffiti mocking British Prime Minister Boris Johnson adorns the windows of a boarded up restaurant which is closed during lockdown three on January 13, 2021 in Manchester, United Kingdom. On Monday January 4th England entered its third lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic. …
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

A senior minister has confirmed that lockdown restrictions will go on at least until March, when he “hopes” that they will start to be lifted — and replaced by the tiered system again.

England went into its third lockdown on January 4th and while initially, Prime Minister Boris Johnson would not give a firm deadline — suggesting mid-February “if things go well” — the emergency legislation passed on the House of Commons days later made the measures legally enforceable until March 31st. Though Mr Johnson claimed that he did not believe restrictions would be needed for that long, the UK was effectively put in a state of shutdown for up to three months.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab — who also as First Secretary of State is the most senior Cabinet minister, making him the de facto deputy prime minister — put the timeframe of three months on the table again, when he told Sky News on Sunday: “What we want to do is get out of these national lockdowns as soon as possible, the roadmap that I described is that by early spring, hopefully by March, we’ll be in a position to make those decisions.”

However, as the prime minister earlier suggested — that coming out of lockdown would be a “gradual unwrapping” — England would go from full lockdown into the tiers system again.

Mr Raab said: “I think it’s right to say we won’t do it all in one big bang; as we phase out of the national lockdown, I think we’ll end up phasing through the tiered approach.

“We want to make sure that we can do it in a safe way but again, we’ve got to, at this point in time, really focus on protecting the NHS and rolling out the vaccine.

“If we do those two things, we get into a much better place by early spring.”

The previous lockdown in November was not fully lifted in December, but replaced with the tiers system that preceded it. Much to the anger and confusion of many lawmakers, large parts of the country saw themselves in a higher tier coming out of Lockdown 2.0 than they did going in, with 99 per cent of England in Tiers 2 and 3.

After Prime Minister Johnson had announced an easing of tiered restrictions for five days over Christmas, his government created yet another tier — Tier 4 — and threw much of the south-east into it, cancelling family Christmases for millions of Britons.

It was some weeks after parts of the country were declared Tier 4 than the whole country went into Lockdown 3.0, which some news outlets dubbed Tier 5, lending credibility to lockdown critics that the strictness of tiers would only ever get higher, and more widespread. Media is already speculating what a ‘Tier 6’ could look like, including expanding the enforcement of mask-wearing in busy outdoor settings, banning friends from meeting up for exercise, and increasing social distancing from two metres (six feet) to three metres (nine feet).

Last week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that it was “impossible to know” when lockdowns would be lifted, feeding a narrative coming from Westminster that even if the whole country is vaccinated, there will be some form of restrictions for the foreseeable future. Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van-Tam also said that coronavirus “is likely to be with us probably for the foreseeable future”, adding that if the Chinese virus mutates, vaccines might have to be reformulated, meaning there may be mass inoculation programmes in the future.

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