The government could introduce a strict Tier 4 local lockdown level when national restrictions expire on 2 December, a minister has admitted.
Communities secretary Robert Jenrick said it is the government’s “hope and expectation” that England will return to a tiered system after the full lockdown ends, but that “work is undergoing on what those tiers look like”.
Asked if there could be a tougher tier than Tier 3 in the new system, he said: “We haven’t come to a decision on that.
“The Tier 3 that we had before was just considered a baseline.”
It comes the day after a top government advisor said that Tier 1 measures had not worked, and the system would need to be strengthened.
Public Health England’s Dr Susan Hopkins said the least severe of England’s three tiers had “very little effect”.
Before the second national lockdown was introduced on 5 November, people in Tier 1 areas were permitted to meet in groups no larger than six indoors and outdoors.
Her comments indicate that indoor socialising could be banned under Tier 1.
Prime minister Boris Johnson has insisted England’s second lockdown will end on 2 December.
Watch: 'Too early' to say if Tier 1 restrictions will be tightened, says Matt Hancock
In the House of Commons on Tuesday, health secretary Matt Hancock said it is “too early” to say whether Tier 1 restrictions in England will have to be tightened following the lockdown.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth asked Hancock: “We heard that Tier 1 has had very little effect and that the tiers must be strengthened.
“So can he confirm that it is the government’s intention to impose a tougher set of restrictions on Tier 1 areas post this lockdown?”
Mr Hancock replied: “It is too early to do the analysis that (Mr Ashworth) requests, but of course we remain vigilant.”
Dr Hopkins, who is advising the government’s COVID-19 response, said they would have to consider strengthening the measures until a vaccine is widely available.
On Monday, US firm Moderna revealed its vaccine in development is almost 95% effective in protecting against coronavirus.
The UK has already secured 40 million doses of a vaccine from Pfizer/BioNTech, which uses the same technology as Moderna and should be available before Christmas.
Hancock said the UK would have access to five million doses of Moderna if it is approved.
He added: “It is too early for us to know what the number of cases will be as we come to the end of the current lockdown.
“But we absolutely hope to be able to replace the national lockdown with a tiered system similar to what we had before.”
Dr Hopkins said that Tier 2 of the local restrictions appeared to have worked in some areas but “not so well in others”.
She added: “We see very little effect from Tier 1 and I think when we look at what tiers may be there in the future, we will have to think about strengthening them in order to get us through the winter months until the vaccine is available for everyone.”
Watch: What is long COVID?
Coronavirus: what happened today
Click here to sign up to the latest news and information with our daily Catch-up newsletter