The health secretary told LBC he would not unveil “anything above Tier 4” later on Wednesday but new areas will be put into that toughest set of restrictions.
Ministers are reviewing England’s tiers every two weeks, with Wednesday’s coming after an expert warned Tier 4 limits may not be enough to stop the spread of COVID-19, which is mostly being driven by the newly identified variant.
"I'm not announcing anything above Tier 4 today, and we need to see in Tier 4 areas not just rules, but people taking that responsibility as they did in the first and second national lockdown to keep the rates under control,” Hancock said on LBC.
Asked if more parts of England would be put into Tier 4, he said: “Yes, because in the short term, in the here and now, we've got to keep this virus under control, and the strategy all along has been to suppress the virus until the vaccine can make us safe, and the ‘vaccine making us safe’ bit has just got a whole lot easier.
“But the new variant, especially but not only in London and the South East, is making the ‘suppress the virus’ part of the strategy harder as well.”
The tougher restrictions come as the UK approved the Oxford vaccine, providing a welcome boost for a nation that saw a record rise of more than 50,000 newly-reported cases on Tuesday.
Watch: Matt Hancock hails ‘significant moment’ as COVID vaccine given green light
A member of the government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) warned on Tuesday that current restrictions may not be enough to properly tackle the surge in COVID cases.
He said the rise in COVID cases is “very largely driven” by the new variant and told BBC Radio 4: “I think we are entering a very dangerous new phase of the pandemic and we’re going to need decisive, early, national action to prevent a catastrophe in January and February.
“A 50% increase in transmissibility means that the previous levels of restrictions that worked before won’t work now, and so Tier 4 restrictions are likely to be necessary or even higher than that.”
Watch: What is long COVID?