Coronavirus: everything you need to know about the UK’s incoming restrictions
Northern leaders angered by leaked plans to impose strict new measures in high-risk areas within days
Pubs and restaurants in English regions with spiralling coronavirus outbreaks are braced to close their doors within days as Downing Street prepares to tighten lockdown restrictions.
Boris Johnson signed off the lockdown measures last night “alongside new financial support and a simplified system of restrictions in England”, The Times reports. The plan has been met with fury by northern leaders, “who attacked the government for allowing it to leak without briefing them first” about the stricter regulations, the newspaper adds.
Regional lockdown measures have come under scrutiny in recent days after Labour leader Keir Starmer presented data that suggests infections have continued to rise in areas already under localised rules.
Which areas may be affected and how?
The new rules are expected to come into force on Monday and to be applied according to a three-tier system designed to simplify lockdown guidance.
Merseyside and other parts of northern England “will be placed in the highest tier as some hospitals start to run out of dedicated Covid beds and infections rise sharply”, according to The Times. “Tier one” would see hospitality businesses such as pubs, restaurants and cafes close, and possibly other leisure venues and hairdressers, although schools, universities and other businesses would remain open.
“Regions in the middle tier will be subject to a simplified version of existing local lockdown measures, while those in the lowest tier must observe national restrictions such as the ‘rule of six’,” says the newspaper.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick this morning refused to confirm or deny that new restrictions would be imposed next week. “It is correct to say the number of cases in the northwest and the northeast and a number of cities, particularly in the Midlands like Nottingham, are rising fast and that is a serious situation,” he told Times Radio.
“We are currently considering what steps we should take, obviously taking the advice of our scientific and medical advisers, and a decision will be made shortly.”
The Times says that the tougher restrictions will be rolled out along with a new system of “wage support for employees of businesses that were forced back into lockdown three months after opening”.
Whitehall sources claim the support “will be more generous than the scheme announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak last month, which subsidises a fifth of part-time wages”, the paper adds.
Leaders in the north of England have voiced frustration at not being consulted over the measures. Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham tweeted: “No discussion. No consultation. Millions of lives affected by Whitehall diktat. It is proving impossible to deal with this government.”
No. 10 has also been criticised Mayor of Liverpool Steve Rotheram, who last week warned the government that he would not support economically damaging restrictions. Rotheram told the Daily Mirror yesterday that “the government hasn’t responded to our requests to evidence the restrictions imposed in our area”.
Meanwhile, Labour leader Keir Starmer questioned why Tory constituencies such as Uxbridge and South Ruslip, the seat held by Johnson, were being spared further restrictions, while northern areas with lower levels of coronavirus were hit with harsh measures.
“The prime minister can’t explain why an area goes into restrictions, he can’t explain what the different restrictions are, and he can’t explain how restrictions end. This is getting ridiculous,” Starmer told Prime Minister’s Questions.
But despite the criticisms, Downing Street sources insist immediate tough action is necessary. An insider told The Sun that “the numbers are going the wrong way, and there will come a point very soon where we simply have to do more”.
According to the London Evening Standard, senior scientists have “begged” Johnson not to waste the chance to arrest the spread of Covid-19.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Professor Stephen Reicher, who sits on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) behavioural science sub-group, said: “The good news is we have a window of opportunity to do something.
“If we squander that window of opportunity then we really are in trouble, then we really would be talking about going back to March in terms of full lockdown measures.”