Nottingham and surrounding areas are to enter the toughest tier 3 coronavirus restrictions after a surge in infections in the area.
In a joint statement, the leaders of Nottingham City, Broxtowe, Gedling and Rushcliffe councils said that the new measures will come into effect on Thursday, closing pubs and bars and imposing strict limits on social contact.
The announcement appeared to signal a reprieve for other parts of Nottinghamshire - including the Newark constituency of local government secretary Robert Jenrick - which are currently in the less stringent tier 2, though the Department of Health declined to confirm any details of changes.
It came as health secretary Matt Hancock declined to rule out the introduction of an even tougher tier 4, amid reports that civil servants are drawing up plans for a new level of restrictions if Boris Johnson’s current three-tier regional system fails to stem to spread of Covid-19.
Asked if a fourth tier was under consideration, Mr Hancock told BBC Breakfast: “We rule nothing out, but at the moment the three-tier system is what we’re working to and it is effective in slowing the rate of growth of this virus, but it hasn’t brought that growth to a halt, it hasn’t got the curve coming down which is where we need to see it.”
The latest official statistics reported 20,890 positive tests and 102 deaths of coronavirus patients across the UK on Monday.
Nottingham and the neighbouring boroughs of Gelding, Broxtowe and Rushcliffe will follow Merseyside, Lancashire, Greater Manchester, South Yorkshire and Warrington into the “very high” Covid alert level.
In a joint statement, leaders of the four councils said they had agreed the move with ministers “to achieve a sustained reduction in infection rates, especially to help protect our vulnerable residents, the NHS and social care services”.
They said a financial support package “similar to those secured in other parts of the country” had been agreed with government, with an official announcement due tomorrow.
Official statistics for the week to 18 October showed Nottingham had the second highest infection rate in England, with 610 cases per 100,000 inhabitants - though this was down sharply from 927 the previous week.
Broxtowe recorded 318 cases per 100,000, Gedling 377 and Rushcliffe 365, while other parts of the county registered lower rates.
The move to tier 3 “very high” alert status in Warrington was brought forward by two days after a sharp rise in cases among the over-60s.
Warrington Borough Council said last week that it was expecting tighter restrictions to be introduced on Thursday, but health secretary Matt Hancock announced that they will come into effect from a minute past midnight on Tuesday.
Under tier 3 arrangements, all pubs and bars in the Cheshire town must close unless they are serving substantial meals, and betting shops, adult gaming centres, casinos and soft play areas have also been told to shut their doors.
Local residents are barred from socialising with anyone outside their household or support bubble either indoors or in private gardens and outdoor hospitality venues. They may meet in parks and in the countryside in groups of no more than six.
People from Warrington are advised not to travel outside the borough for non-essential reasons and should avoid staying overnight elsewhere in the UK.
The borough has secured a financial support package totalling £5.9m from the government, including £4.2m for business and employment support and £1.7m for public protection and enforcement.
The Department for Health and Social Care said infection rates in Warrington had reached 361 per 100,000 population during the week of 12-18 October, compared to 180 in England as a whole.
Although a spike in infections was initially detected among younger people, there were signs it is moving into the older population, with case rates at 217 per 100,000 for over-60s - a 20% rise on the previous week.
As of 20 October there were 117 confirmed Covid-19 cases in hospital in the area, with 17 mechanical ventilation beds occupied by confirmed Covid-19 patients.
Mr Hancock said: “I know that these new measures will mean sacrifices must be made by the people in Warrington, and I want to extend my thanks to each and every one of them for recognising the severity of the situation and sticking to the rules.
“We have agreed a support package designed to help businesses while boosting efforts to control the virus locally, and will not hesitate to take similar action in any area of the country if infection rates continue to rise.”