Hopes that rural areas will be ‘decoupled’ from neighbouring Covid hotspots in high tiers are dashed as Matt Hancock warns move would trigger infections spike
- Local MPs had hoped they would be ‘decoupled’ from neighbouring hotspots
- However, Matt Hancock has warned move could lead to rural areas ‘catching up’
- Review of tiers to take place on Wednesday with fears London could be in Tier 3
Hopes that rural areas will be ‘decoupled’ from coronavirus hotspots have been dashed after Matt Hancock suggested the move would lead to an increase in infections.
The Health Secretary has written to Conservative MPs warning that moving rural regions into lower tiers will lead to them ‘catching up’ and ‘overtaking’ neighbouring hotspots.
His comments come after several Tory MPs representing rural constituencies argued against harsher restrictions, complaining that they had been unfairly trapped in Tier 3 because of how close they are to areas with high infection rates.
Matt Hancock has written to Conservative MPs dashing hopes of rural areas being ‘decoupled’ from larger coronavirus hotspots
Boris Johnson previously promised that the review of tiers, set to take place on Wednesday, would be done on a more ‘granular’ basis.
There are hopes areas like Lincolnshire and North Somerset could be placed into lower tiers.
Downing Street sources said the PM remained committed to looking at each area on its own merits, though Tory MPs now believe any decoupling is likely to be limited to larger local authorities, such as unitary or county councils.
Now, in a letter to Lincolnshire Tory MPs Sir John Hayes and Gareth Davies, Mr Hancock said: ‘I understand the force of your arguments on the particulars of South Holland and South Kesteven and I know you made them in the best interests of your constituents, as you always have done.
‘It is important to note that we know from lived experience over recent months that where narrow carve-outs take place in the face of higher rates in neighbouring areas, time and again these carved out areas simply catch up, and often overtake their neighbouring areas.’
Mark Harper MP, the former Government chief whip and now the chairman of the anti-lockdown Coronavirus Research Group of Conservative MPs, said following the letter: ‘Many areas across the country, rural and urban, with relatively low rates of infection are having their recovery hopes dashed by damaging ‘one size fits all’ Tier 2 or Tier 3 restrictions covering a much wider area.
‘The whole point of the widespread testing we now have is to enable restrictions to be focused at the most local level possible to target outbreaks. If the public is to continue complying with restrictions then it’s important that they feel the restrictions for their area match the level of risk.’
The comments come despite Andrew Bridgen, the North-West Leicestershire Tory MP, revealing Mr Hancock had already told him a more localised approach would be taken in his area.
His local authority – currently in the same tier 3 high-virus area as the city of Leicester but with lower Covid rates – is likely to be placed in a lower category of controls this week.
Mr Bridgen said he asked Mr Hancock yesterday in a text message what he could do to help and the Health Secretary replied: ‘We are de-linking you from Leicester.’
Meanwhile, MPs are thought to be resigned to the whole of London being put into Tier 3.
It was previously suggested the capital could be split between higher and lower infection boroughs.
A Cabinet source said: ‘London is one capital – not 32 boroughs.’
Sources in the Treasury and the Department for Business, which last month successfully argued against London being put into Tier 3, admitted it could no longer be prevented.
A Cabinet source from another department said: ‘It would decimate our sector so we’re obviously quite active in trying to stop it. But you have to face the reality.’
It comes as the number of daily recorded deaths rose to 519 – up from 397 last Saturday.
There were also 21,502 new positive cases, an increase of 38 per cent from last Saturday.
Meanwhile, London’s Tory MPs have urged Boris Johnson not to inflict ‘untold damage’ on the capital by moving it into a tier 3 lockdown this week.
In a letter seen by The Mail on Sunday, the MPs urge the Prime Minister to spare the capital because shutting it down would hurt not just Londoners, but ‘people across the nation’ who depend on the ‘wealth and prosperity generated by our great city’.
A decision on whether to plunge London into the highest lockdown before Christmas was going to the wire this weekend, with a row brewing with Ministers after police and local councils objected to plans to divide London into different tiers.
With the capital’s businesses saying tier 3 would deliver a £3 billion hit to the economy, Ministers including Michael Gove have suggested that only the outer London boroughs with the highest infection rates should go in to the top tier.