Darren Adam 1am - 4am
More areas in England could face Tier 4 restrictions from Boxing Day
23 December 2020, 05:34
More areas of England could be put into Tier 4 from Boxing Day as fears grow over the spread of the new variant of coronavirus.
Reports suggested ministers would meet on Wednesday to decide whether more parts of the country would be put under the toughest restrictions amid fears over the spread of a new mutant strain of coronavirus.
The Daily Telegraph reported local leaders and health officials in Birmingham met on Tuesday night to discuss the possibility of the city being moved into Tier 4, while areas in lower tiers could be moved up to Tier 3.
Genomic researchers have found the new variant, which is said to be 70% more infectious than previous strains, has already spread around the UK, with cases identified in Wales and Scotland.
Health chiefs in Cumbria have said the new variant is in the county and could be behind sharp increases in new cases, while Lancashire's director of public health said there was a "high likelihood" the new variant was in the county.
To try and prevent the spread, rapid Covid-19 tests are set to be rolled out to another 17 local council areas across England.
Quick-turnaround lateral flow tests will be used to help detect asymptomatic cases with the aim of slowing the spread of the virus in Tier 3 areas such as Newcastle, Coventry and Walsall and Tier 2 Bristol.
Public Health England scientists at Porton Down have also confirmed lateral flow tests "successfully detected samples" with the new variant of Covid-19 which is spreading rapidly in London and South East England.
The 17 new areas join 106 others already signed up to roll out rapid community testing in December or January, including some areas which are now in Tier 4 such as London and Medway in Kent.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock urged members of the public to take a test if they are offered one by public health teams.
France lifted its travel ban and allowed journeys from the UK to resume, but said those seeking to travel must have a negative coronavirus test result.
It is expected NHS Test and Trace staff and the military will be deployed for the mass testing programme in Kent, where more than 2,800 HGVs were stuck on Tuesday afternoon.
France said a negative test result taken less than 72 hours before the journey would be required for those entering the country from the UK.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said rapid lateral flow tests - which can give results in about 30 minutes - will be used in the testing programme, while the French authorities will be carrying out similar testing on hauliers entering the UK.
Full details of the testing programme have not yet been released, but Mr Shapps warned it could take until Christmas for congestion to be relieved near ports.
He said: "We have managed to get all those tests to Kent, enough for all the vehicles which will want to return before Christmas, so that won't be an issue.
"Obviously there's a physical issue of providing the test, getting the results. A negative test allows you to leave.
"But all of that requires operationalising and that can't happen in an instant, so this will take two or three days for things to be cleared."
He urged hauliers not to travel to Kent until further notice.