A cabinet minister has told Sky News the government “can’t rule anything out” when it comes to the possibility of local coronavirus restrictions in areas that have seen cases rise sharply.
Data shows that although the average infection rate in the UK has fallen by 15% to 40.1 per 100,000 people for the two-week period ending 4 May, there have been sharp rises in some areas.
Nearly half of those areas recorded an increase in infections when compared to the preceding two-week period.
Environment Secretary George Eustice told Sky News the government is monitoring the situation “closely”.
“We’re not quite sure what could be driving it, whether it’s particular variants that are taking hold there, whether it’s that in certain areas people are perhaps being a bit too lax about the restrictions that remain in place,” he said.
“We’re unclear about that, but we are monitoring these situations carefully.
“But overall, the picture is a good one.
“We’ve got falling incidences of the virus and obviously with the success of the vaccine rollout as well, far fewer hospitalisation and deaths now at a very low level.”
Asked about the possibility of regional restrictions or stricter local measures in parts of England to drive down case rates, Mr Eustice said “we can’t rule anything out”, but did not go into specifics about what sort of action could be taken.
“But our plan that’s been set out by the prime minister, the reason we’re being incredibly cautious about exiting lockdown, is we want this to be the last,” he said.
“We want to try and avoid having to get into a tiered system and regionalisation.
“We tried that last autumn, we know that in the end we had to go for a full lockdown.
“We’ve got our confidence now in the vaccination programme, that’s rolling out and that is delivering. It is also reducing transmission rates as well as reducing hospitalisations and mortality.
“That’s got to be our focus.”
When he set out his roadmap out of lockdown restrictions in England, Boris Johnson in February said there would be no return to the previous tiered system of measures.
The prime minister has also spoke consistently of seeing a “cautious but irreversible” lifting of restrictions.
On Monday, Mr Johnson confirmed that step three of the lockdown easing will go ahead next week.
This will see pubs and restaurants reopen indoors and people allowed to mix indoors as two households or under the rule of six.
People will also have the choice whether to socially distance with close family and friends they are meeting up with.