The traffic light plans for the three-tier system are understood to be backed by Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary and Robert Jenrick, the Local Government secretary, among others.
It is seen as a more attractive alternative to a “circuit break” two-week national lockdown, the idea of which emerged last week and was blamed by Number 10 on leaks from a meeting of scientific advisers.
One Cabinet minister told The Telegraph: “At the moment there is a range of different measures being applied in different places.
“A three-tiered approach that is more consistent across the country will set out the steps we will take as the ‘R’ rate increases. The virtue is that it gives greater clarity and consistency. What is in the tiers is subject to further discussion.”
Another minister said the Government wanted “to take lessons of local lockdowns and looking at what works in terms of infection control” by cracking down on person-to-person infection.
However, a Whitehall source said: “There is a proposal in the Whitehall system to look at a tiered approach. It is in the system, it is being considered, but no decisions have been made and it has not been signed off yet.”
A senior Government source added: “It still needs to be properly interrogated to see if this will work on a national level.”
What the tiers would mean, and how it would work
A draft three-tier scheme was set out by authorities in London this month. It proposed dividing the capital into areas with fewer than 20 cases per 100,0000 (“green”), 20 to 50 per 100,000 (“amber”) and more than 50 per 100,000 (“red”).
If this scheme were applied to England it would mean over 30 million people in 149 local authority areas would be subject to the upper two “amber” and “red” tiers in which additional restrictions apply.
Using the London model, the “green” areas would be kept under control through the NHS Test and Trace system. Marshals would patrol the streets to enforce the “rule of six”, while pubs and restaurants would close at 10pm. Schools, care homes and businesses would be monitored to make sure they are Covid-secure.
The “amber” tier would see social contacts and religious gatherings restricted further, while people’s movements could be curtailed. Authorities would scale up testing capacity to identify and isolate those carrying the virus, while public health bodies would carry out increased monitoring of care homes, hospitals and workplaces for further outbreaks.
The “red” tier would see stricter local lockdowns imposed, but schools would only be closed as a last resort.
The app, which launches on Thursday and is based on Apple and Google’s privacy-centric software, marks the second attempt by the Department of Health and Social Care to develop a software to bolster the contact tracing effort.
As well as using QR codes in venues, it relies on Bluetooth technology to make a record of close contacts – those who have come within two metres for 15 minutes.
Users who have tested positive for the virus or have suspected symptoms are expected to upload those details into the app, whereupon close contacts will be told to self-isolate.