Matt Hancock delivers another hint low-infection areas WILL be downgraded


Matt Hancock delivers another hint low-infection areas WILL be downgraded in two weeks as PM reels from 55-strong Tory revolt amid warnings he faces ‘problems by Christmas’ unless tiers are eased

Matt Hancock today delivered another hint that low-infection areas will see lockdown downgraded by December 16 as the government reels from a huge Tory revolt.

The new tiers system for England came into force at midnight after the Commons approved it by 291 to 78 – but the healthy majority masked a disaster for Boris Johnson as a swathe of his own MPs abandoned him.

Some 55 Tories went against the PM in the biggest uprising of this Parliament, and he was only saved because Keir Starmer ordered Labour to abstain.

The group voted against the measures despite Mr Johnson personally waiting in the division lobbies and begging them to stick with the government. He had also vowed that there will be a more ‘granular’ approach when the first review happens in a fortnight, after many MPs were infuriated that relatively coronavirus-free areas were being subject to harsh restrictions due to nearby hotspots.

In a round of broadcast interviews this morning, the Health Secretary again suggested that the implementation of the tiers will be more localised after December 16 – although Conservatives will note that he stopped short of making a firm commitment.

Mr Hancock also seized on news that the Pfizer vaccine has been approved by UK regulators and will start being distributed next week, urging people not to let up on efforts to suppress the disease now.

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme if the government will break counties down into districts next time around, Mr Hancock said: ‘Of course we will look at the country… according to the epidemiology, according to the human geographies of where people live and work.’

He pointed to Slough as an example of an area that had been split off in the last round of tiers.

Pressed on whether the same could be done for Kent and Lancashire, Mr Hancock said: ‘Where that is appropriate that is what we will do, absolutely.’

Challenged again if that will happen from December 16, he said: ‘Yes. That is what we have done throughout these localised restrictions… But the thing is we want to keep this virus under control until a vaccine arrives.’

But Tory MPs have warned that Mr Johnson will be in serious trouble unless he follows through on the move.

‘He is going to have a problem. There are people who are expecting it and they will be under pressure over Christmas if it doesn’t happen,’ one former minister told MailOnline.

‘He is looking to get through the next two weeks. He would like to think for the long term until March, but to keep the rebels happy he’s had to put December 16 on the table.’