London leaders believe the capital faces a Tier 3 lockdown in as little as two weeks as coronavirus cases soar.
Allies of Sadiq Khan said it is “very likely” the capital of 9million people will be plunged into the tightest restrictions in a fortnight.
Leaders in the West Midlands said yesterday they believe they face Tier 3 as soon as next week, while Tier 3 talks are still under way with large parts of the North East.
By next week 11million people will be under England’s toughest rules – which shut bars and pubs unless they can operate as a restaurant, and impose restrictions on travel and gatherings.
And 32.6million people will be under Tier 2 or 3 rules – creating what critics brand a semi-national lockdown by stealth.
But scientists warn the current expansion of Tier 3 will still not be enough to combat the virus.
Tory ministers are refusing calls to impose a full-blown national lockdown like in France. But they are considering moving more areas into Tier 3 – and have not ruled out a new, even stricter Tier 4.
According to reports, No10 is considering a Tier 4 in which only schools and essential shops remain open.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab refused to rule out the drastic plan today.
He told the BBC: “We’re always ready for further measures that we can take
“But I think the most important thing about further measures is that we continue on the track we’re on of targeting the virus.”
A study by Imperial College London yesterday estimated ‘R’ was 1.56 nationally and 2.86 in London – far higher than the official figure.
It’s understood London health officials are still working from the ‘official’ R – 1.1-1.3 in the capital – but were blindsided by the study.
There are not yet any active talks between mayor Sadiq Khan and the government about moving into Tier 3.
But one ally of the mayor predicted: “The way things are looking – cases going up, hospitalisations going up – it looks very likely London could be going into Tier 3 in a couple of weeks’ time.”
Mr Khan is still pushing for a short national ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown but sources say Tier 3 looks “highly likely” if it doesn’t happen.
It comes after a huge expansion of Tier 3 rules after a flurry of talks this week with leaders in the North and Midlands.
West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Warrington have all been added to the Tier 3 list in recent days.
Tier 3 restrictions ban residents from meeting people not from their household or bubble, either indoors or in gardens or beer gardens.
Only gatherings in open spaces like parks, within the rule of six, are allowed – or those which fall under an exemption like workplaces.
Tier 3 residents are also advised not to travel in or out of the area or stay overnight unless it is strictly necessary.
The interim analysis by Imperial College London, which gathered data from October 16-25, suggested there were around 96,000 new infections per day.
And it estimated the R number was above 2 in London, the South East, East of England and South West, despite none of those areas being in Tier 3.
Study author Prof Steven Riley said “current measures are not sufficient” and said “there would be genuine benefits to some kind of national policy.”
He told the BBC: “We could prevent the pattern in the South turning into the current pattern in the North and bring about a reversal in the North as quickly as possible.
“If we’re going to end up using those restrictions that have been brought in elsewhere in Europe today and yesterday… we should think about timing. And sooner is better than later for these.
“There has to be a change. The rate of growth that we’re seeing in these data is really quite rapid, so one way or another there has to be a change before Christmas.”
Mr Raab today insisted a full-blown national lockdown was not inevitable despite mounting calls to put one in place.
He told the BBC: “I don’t think that is right, but what we are guided by is the rate of the virus.
“We’ve seen some evidence since we started putting in place this tiered approach that the rate of increase has slowed.”