Hospitalisations have already breached “reasonable worst case” levels, the papers show, and minutes from Sage warned that the NHS is in danger of being overwhelmed without national interventions.

Discussions are ongoing about whether the harsher restrictions would be referred to as “Tier 4” or “Tier 3 plus”.

One senior Government source said: “In Tier 3 everything is up for discussion apart from schools, so ‘Tier 4’ is an odd concept in that sense.”

Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, said the Government was “striving” to avoid blanket restrictions nationwide and insisted targeted measures could slow the growth in cases.

Asked about the potential for introducing a “Tier 4”, Mr Raab, a member of the Cabinet’s coronavirus subcommittee, said: “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 that we’re on of targeting the virus.”

To date, 10.6 million people in England have been placed into Tier 3, with another 10.6 million in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Scotland living under similar or harsher measures. The West Midlands and the Tees Valley are expected to be moved to Tier 3 as early as next week, with talks between the Government and local leaders in both areas ongoing.

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