Parts of England’s North West, West Yorkshire and the Midlands face tough new restrictions as the Health Secretary refused to rule out a national lockdown amid a widespread rise in Covid-19.
Ministers announced a tightening of rules in response to “major increases” in cases, with Merseyside, Warrington, Halton and Lancashire – excluding Blackpool and Greater Manchester – escalated to “areas of intervention”.
From Tuesday, the following restrictions will be enforced in these places:
– Residents must not socialise with other people outside of their own households or support bubble in private homes and gardens.
– Restaurants, pubs and bars will be restricted to table service only, while all leisure and entertainment venues including restaurants, pubs and cinemas must close between 10pm and 5am.
Residents are also advised to avoid public transport unless it is essential, as well as professional or amateur sporting events.
The new rules do not apply to Bolton or Greater Manchester, where separate restrictions are already in place.
Meanwhile, in the Midlands, people in Oadby and Wigston will be banned from socialising with others outside of their own household or support bubble in private homes and gardens from Tuesday.
In West Yorkshire, people in all parts of Bradford, Kirklees and Calderdale will be subject to the same ban on socialising.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “We are seeing cases of coronavirus rise fast in Lancashire, Merseyside, West Yorkshire, Warrington, Halton and Wolverhampton.
“Local leaders in these areas have asked for stronger restrictions to be put in place to protect local people, and we are acting decisively to support them.
“I know these restrictions will make everyday life harder for many, but I know that residents will work together and respect the rules so we can reduce rates of transmission.”
Leicestershire County Council’s director of public health Mike Sandys said: “This steep rise is off the scale – and underlines that residents need to change their behaviour.
“We know that the virus is spreading in communities so it makes sense for the Government to restrict mixing between households. This will be tough.
“But with no one source of infection, it really is down to us to stop the increase.”
It comes after Mr Hancock said a second national lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus has not been ruled out, but the “great hope” is that people will heed current advice to help manage a “very serious” situation.
He said a national lockdown is the “last line of defence”, as he responded to reports that ministers are considering further national measures, even for just a two-week period, such as imposing a curfew on bars and restaurants.
Mr Hancock told BBC Breakfast the latest data shows hospital admissions across England are now doubling every eight days, amid warnings deaths will rise in the coming weeks.
He said it is “absolutely critical” people followed the rules, adding: “If we do all these things, then we can avoid having to take serious further measures.”
Mr Hancock said the current approach is “targeted interventions”, adding: “We want to avoid a national lockdown but we’re prepared to do it, if we need to.”
Asked on Sky News about the possibility of a two-week “circuit break” imposition of national restrictions, Mr Hancock said the Government wants to use “local action”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We want to avoid national lockdown altogether.
“I have learned over the last nine months not ever to rule anything out.
“However, it is not the proposal that’s on the table.”
Scientists from the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) have reportedly proposed a two-week national lockdown in October to tackle the rising number of Covid-19 cases.
A spokesperson for Number 10 did not deny the two-week reports, but said: “We obviously want to avoid any extended lockdown.”
On Friday, the Government published the latest predictions on the R rate – the number of people one infected person passes coronavirus on to.
The latest R estimate for the whole of the UK is between 1.1 and 1.4 and the number of new infections is growing by between 2% and 7% every day.
All regions of England, except the South West, have an R that is higher than 1.0, and all have positive growth rates.
“This increase on last week shows that we are moving to wider spread growth in transmission at a faster rate,” a Government spokesman said.
The R reflects the situation over the last few weeks and, as a result, Sage is concerned the current doubling time could be as quick as every seven days nationally, and potentially even faster in some areas of the country, according to the Government.
Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England said: “We’re seeing clear signs this virus is now spreading widely across all age groups and I am particularly worried by the increase in rates of admission to hospital and intensive care among older people.
“This could be a warning of far worse things to come.”
The Government is still under fire over the NHS Test and Trace system, which has seen up to four times the number of people trying to book a test as the number of tests available.
Experts have said that without effective testing and tracing, it will be much harder to control the spread of the virus and pinpoint larger outbreaks.
New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Friday showed an estimated 59,800 people in private households in England had Covid-19 between September 4 and 10 – around one in 900 individuals.
The ONS said the latest estimate “shows the number of infections has increased in recent weeks”.
Overall, an average of 6,000 people in England per day were estimated to be newly infected with Covid-19 between September 4 and 10, almost double the 3,200 people per day from August 30 to September 5.
The figures do not include people staying in hospitals or care homes.
Earlier, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan told the PA news agency the city is “two weeks behind” parts of the UK that are seeing tighter restrictions.
Globally, confirmed cases of the coronavirus have topped 30 million worldwide, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.