The West Midlands could move to tough new Tier 3 restrictions as soon as the end of next week, unless infection rates drop significantly.
The region’s Conservative mayor Andy Street and the leaders of the seven metropolitan councils had been discussing the prospect of tougher “Very High” measures being imposed, ahead of a gold command meeting with Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Wednesday.
Following the meeting, local authority sources said it is “pretty unlikely” infection rates will come down enough in the next few days, and Tier 3 restrictions could be imposed “by the end of next week or the start of the following week”.
The move would see another three million people join other parts of the country under the highest level of restrictions.
With Nottinghamshire becoming the latest area to have Tier 3 measures imposed, 8.7 million residents across the country will be living under the controls by Friday.
Ian Ward, leader of Birmingham City Council, said: “Given the rising case rate and other factors, a move to Tier 3 would seem to be inevitable at some stage.”
He said he is talking with the other council leaders, MPs and public health officials daily to try and agree a unified position on a support package with the Government.
“We don’t want imposition without negotiation,” he said.
“But I have certainly not said that we are going into Tier 3 imminently.
“That’s not currently the case.”
Other local authority officials attending the Tier 3 talks this week told the PA news agency a move to the toughest controls is “a matter of when, not if”, although council leaders were not united on the detail of what controls should apply.
It comes as 1.5 million more people in the region look set to have Tier 2 restrictions imposed.
The whole of Staffordshire, Dudley, in the Black Country, and Telford & Wrekin, in Shropshire, are the latest areas set for a move from medium to high controls.
Staffordshire County Council leader Alan White warned the area’s 880,000 residents “we are now facing tighter restrictions” because of rapidly rising cases, and the new measures could be in place as soon as the end of the week.
The council said the exact date of when restrictions will be imposed is to be confirmed, but will be reviewed after 14 days.
An official announcement is expected later.
Stoke-on-Trent, which is also in Staffordshire, moved to Tier 2 on Saturday, with public health chiefs there now warning Tier 3 could follow unless infection rates drop.
Dudley had been the last of the West Midlands’ seven metropolitan local authority areas not in Tier 2.
Lucy Allan, Conservative MP for Telford, said “an announcement re Telford’s ‘Tier status’ is expected at lunchtime today, following a meeting this morning”.
Dudley Council leader Patrick Harley said he hopes local authorities will be given time for the measures to work.
The Tier 2 measures will include no household mixing, the rule of six outdoors, and a 10pm closure for pubs and bars not serving substantial meals.
Mr White said: “We can, and we must, rise to this new challenge, but it is down to each and every one of us to stick to the new rules when they do come into force to help keep Staffordshire safe and open for business.”
The latest NHS data shows Staffordshire’s Covid-19 case rate was 271 per 100,000 in the week to October 26.
Dudley was 248 per 100,000 in the same period.
Walsall was at 320, Stoke-on-Trent 301, Sandwell 295, Birmingham 259, Wolverhampton 242, Solihull 218, Telford 213, and Coventry on 192.
Hospitals have started postponing routine procedures and appointments to cope with rising admissions of patients with Covid.
University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Trust, England’s largest, had a 27% increase in the numbers of patients with the disease it was treating in the five days to October 28, because of what it called “sustained and growing pressures”.