The Department of Health and Social Care has said the army will be drafted in to swathes of the country with the highest rates of coronavirus transfer when the national lockdown ends next week.
Armed forces support is part of a range of additional measures for areas that will be in tier 3 when England moves back to regionalised restrictions aimed at limiting the spread of the pandemic on 2 December. Other aid will involve an extension of the Contain Outbreak Management Fund to help local authorities in areas with higher restrictions.
DHSC said the fund – worth £4 per head of the population in tier 3 areas, and £2 per head in tier 2 areas – would now continue until the end of the financial year. It pledged that the government would also publish an analysis of the health, economic and social impacts of the tiered approach.
In parliament, health secretary Matt Hancock said just three English local authority areas would be in the lowest-risk tier-1 category from next week, but there will be a significant expansion in those placed in tier 3.
An official DHSC list shows that almost all of the greater West Midlands area will enter tier 3 as will the East Midlands, while Greater Manchester will remain in it with much of the North West. Also in tier 3 will be South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and the Humber, the North East Combined Authority, the Tees Valley Combined Authority area and the greater Bristol area.
Liverpool – the first area to enter tier 3 – will be downgraded to tier 2, however, the same tier that London will remain in.
DHSC said local authority areas in tier 3 would be “offered support from NHS Test and Trace and the armed forces to deliver a six-week rapid community testing programme”. It added that the first review point for the new tiers would be on 16 December.
Hancock said it was only possible for the national lockdown to be brought to an end in favour of a return to local tiers because of the “hard work and sacrifice” made by people up and down the country.
“I know for those of you faced with tier-3 restrictions this will be a particularly difficult time, but I want to reassure you that we’ll be supporting your areas with mass community testing and extra funding,” he said.
“By following the rules together we can get out of these tough measures.”
DHSC said decisions on which tier an area was placed in were ultimately made by ministers, based on case detection rates for Covid-19, particularly among the over-60s; how quickly case rates are rising or falling; positivity in the general population and pressure on local NHS services.
Also factored into the pressure estimate is a three-to-four-week overview of capacity for pandemic and routine work, as well as staff absence rates.