England was creeping towards lockdown by the back door last night as millions more were told they will face extra curbs.
Almost 60 per cent of the population – around 32.6million – will be under stricter rules by Monday.
And it is understood London could also be moved into the top tier within the next fortnight unless infection rates drop significantly.
Sixteen areas will move into the ‘high risk’ Tier Two at midnight including Oxford, Luton, East Riding of Yorkshire, Kingston Upon Hull, Derbyshire Dales, Derby and Staffordshire
That means that more than 21.6million face the restrictions that include a ban on socialising indoors with anyone from another household, whether at home or in bars, restaurants and cafes.
Almost 60 per cent of the population – around 32.6million – will be under stricter rules by Monday
A further 11 million will be in the ‘very high risk’ Tier Three from midnight on Sunday when Leeds and the rest of West Yorkshire are added to the places where pubs are closed unless serving food.
This will leave only 23.7million without enhanced restrictions.
With tougher restrictions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, it means just over three-fifths of the UK population are living under extra lockdown restrictions.
London was moved into Tier Two a fortnight ago with Downing Street expecting that data in the next few days will start to give an indication whether the restrictions are having a sufficient impact.
Sources close to London mayor Sadiq Khan said he believes it is ‘highly likely’ that Tier Three restrictions will be brought to London in the ‘coming weeks’.
Scientists have warned the second wave of coronavirus could result in 85,000 deaths, almost double the number of victims from the first epidemic
Last night ministers were in talks about putting millions more under the highest Tier Three restrictions before the end of next week, including the West Midlands and the North East. The two regions have a combined population of 8.6million.
Ian Ward, the leader of Birmingham Council, said it ‘would seem to be inevitable’ the curbs will be imposed on the country’s second city.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said last night: ‘We continue to see a worrying rise in cases right across the country, and it is clear decisive action is needed.’
Andy Street, the Conservative West Midlands mayor, yesterday said there ‘active conversations’ as to whether all or part of the region move into Tier Three and what support it would receive.
In the North East, council leaders in the Tees Valley have been informed by the Government of its intention to move the area into Tier Three. The leaders of Redcar and Cleveland, Darlington, Stockton and Hartlepool councils, the mayor of Middlesbrough and the Tees Valley mayor will hold further talks with ministers this morning.
Other local authorities in the North East are also in discussions about whether restrictions need to be escalated. Areas already in Tier Three are Liverpool City Region, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, South Yorkshire and Warrington.
They were joined last night at midnight by Nottinghamshire, which has the strictest curbs yet, including a ban on the sale of alcohol in shops after 9pm.
Home Secretary Priti Patel yesterday said the Government would not rule anything out as experts continued to ramp up pressure for a more national approach to address the rising infection rate.
Asked yesterday about the possibility of another national lockdown, she said: ‘Well I think at this stage of course we can rule nothing out because we are a Government that is focused on making sure that we stop the spread of this virus, and also we protect public health. So we have been using, and we are using and we will continue to use, every single means available to us to do exactly that.’
But earlier, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said the Government will ‘try everything in our power’ to avoid a ‘blanket national lockdown’.
He said the Government’s ‘very firm view’ is that a short national ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown would be the wrong approach, saying ‘you can’t have a stop- start country’.
Government scientific adviser Dr Mike Tildesley yesterday said more national restrictions are needed, with the current trajectory likely to put nearly everywhere in Tier Two before Christmas.
The University of Warwick researcher, who sits on the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We are seeing the R number is greater than one everywhere…
‘So really we need to move away from these regional firefighting techniques to try to move to something more national.’
Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College London, said there would be ‘genuine benefits to some kind of national policy’.
He told the Today programme: ‘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.’