The health secretary has not ruled out the prospect of another national lockdown – and said whether Tier 4 restrictions work is “down to people’s behaviour”.

Asked if the government could take further measures to try and curb the spread of COVID-19, Matt Hancock told Sky News: “We don’t rule anything out.”

He said areas in Tier 3 were seeing “sharp rises” in coronavirus cases, a hint that those parts of the country not already in Tier 4 could be moved up to the highest level of restrictions in the near future.

“This new variant is much easier to catch, it is much more transmissible, and we’re now seeing the effect of that in lots of different parts of the country, unfortunately,” the health secretary said.

“And it means that whereas the old Tier 3 was able to contain the old variant, that is proving increasingly difficult in all parts of the country.”

Asked if Tier 4 restrictions work in keeping the virus under control, Mr Hancock said: “It is down to people’s behaviour, frankly. What matters is, yes of course, the rules that we put in place, but it is also about how people act.

“And frankly what I would say is this: it is critical that everybody in the country does all that they can to reduce the spread of the virus.”

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With the emergence of new variants of COVID-19 – first identified in the UK and South Africa – and daily cases regularly surpassing 50,000, there are growing calls for Boris Johnson to act further.

The prime minister has made clear he is considering that, saying in a BBC interview on Sunday: “It may be that we need to do things in the next few weeks that may be tougher. I’m fully reconciled to that. I think the whole country is fully reconciled to that.”

That same day, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the government must impose a national lockdown within 24 hours because the virus is “clearly out of control”.

Politics

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