There will not be another national lockdown despite rocketing Covid-19 cases across the UK, the education secretary has said.
Gavin Williamson said he was “confident” the tier system would remain in place in England, describing it as “robust” and preferable to nation-wide measures.
As millions more people moved into the highest tier 4 level overnight, the cabinet minister argued that it was important to give local areas the ability to loosen measures depending on their control of the virus.
“I’m confident that we won’t be moving into a national lockdown situation because the tiering structure is the right place to be,” he told Sky News.
“If you don’t have to impose these restrictions on people, you don’t want to impose those restrictions on people. That to me has got to be the right approach.”
Mr Williamson added: “We’re taking the absolute right approach, to pursue the tiering system. It’s really important those areas have the opportunity to move down the tiering system, as well as having to sometimes move areas up the tiering system.
“This is a robust approach and as so many of us are in the situation of having to live in tier 4 areas, we recognise the impositions that this has on everyone’s lives, but this is the right approach, it’s a proper approach, and it is a robust approach. “
His comments come after Boris Johnson appeared to hint wider national restrictions could be on the way. Scientists have warned that it is not yet clear what impact social mixing at Christmas has had.
The prime minister on Wednesday had said it was “a bit of an open question” what impact regional Tier 4 restrictions would have have, adding: “We’re going to keep reviewing this for all parts of the country.”
Mr Williamson was speaking after an announcement that many schools across England would stay closed in the first half of January to control the virus.
Explaining the short notice, he said: “I think we all recognise that if we go back a few weeks where there was no new variant of Covid, none of us would have been expecting us to be having to take the actions, whether it’s in regards to schools, whether it’s in regards to Tier 4 moves that the Government has had to make, but it’s the Government that’s having to respond at incredible pace to a global pandemic and then a new variant of that virus.
“It’s not what any of us would want to do, it’s not a decision that any of us would be wanting to have to implement, but we’ve had to do that because circumstances have dictated it.
“I think the British public expect the Government to do what is right and even though that is sometimes uncomfortable, it is taking the right actions, dealing with these extraordinary times.”