There are fears that, on current infection trends, the whole country will be at Tier 3 by Christmas, and unable to meet extended family members. 

One senior health official said measures were most likely to be successful if they were taken on a national basis rather than toughening up the rules for Tier 3. 

“The data is extremely concerning – the virus is on the rise everywhere,” the official said. “If we continue on with the ‘R’ rate substantially above one across the whole country, it’s very clear what happens.

“More and more NHS hospitals fill up, more and more and more people are asked to isolate, and the virus continues to spread. And in the end, that’s a very bad place for us to be. Something has to change.”

Without further interventions, or a dramatic change in societal behaviour, all parts of the country will reach infection levels that require “at least Tier 3” restrictions, the official added. 

Several more parts of the country are expected to be put into higher tiers after a meeting of the Cabinet’s Covid operations committee, chaired by Michael Gove.

The committee was told that the infection rate in Liverpool is starting to flatten, likely to be used by Mr Johnson as evidence that his tier system must be given time to take effect before any more serious measures are considered.

One source said: “There are early signs that Tier 3 restrictions work when you have got everyone behind them, like in Liverpool. But there aren’t such encouraging signs in Manchester, where the local leaders played politics.

“It’s all about compliance. If people don’t comply and the numbers keep going up, everybody knows what comes next.”

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