In a dramatic move to try to halt the second wave of the pandemic, the Prime Minister is to announce that Manchester, Liverpool and other Northern cities are to be designated “very high risk” areas that must face the strictest measures in a new three-level alert system. Officials will order the closure of a swathe of hospitality businesses – also including casinos and bookmakers – in the worst affected regions to clamp down on transmission of the killer disease. Restaurants, schools and universities will be permitted to remain open in “high risk” areas however.
Ministers and local authority chiefs will review the measures every four weeks to see whether restrictions can be eased.
A Downing Street spokesman said: “Our primary focus has always been to protect lives and livelihoods while controlling the spread of the virus and these measures will help achieve that aim.
“We must do everything we can to protect the NHS and make sure it can continue to deliver the essential services that so many people rely on.
“This is a critical juncture and it is absolutely vital that everyone follows the clear guidance we have set out to help contain the virus.”
Boris to unleash fresh lockdown hell TODAY as thousands of businesses ordered to close
Boris Johnson will today order thousands of pubs, bars, gyms and other businesses to shut
Mr Johnson is to set out the new Covid Alert Levels for England in a statement to the Commons today.
The three alert levels will be “medium”, “high” and “very high” with the Government and local leaders determining appropriate measures for each.
He will also address the nation at a live television news conference from Downing Street alongside Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.
But the move is likely to inflame the anger of critics complaining about the potential damage to regional economies across the North.
Five Labour MPs representing Manchester constituencies wrote to the Government to protest against “blanket closures in hospitality” yesterday.
“We are concerned that closing all regulated premises will not only lead to gatherings being pushed underground, but won’t have a sizeable effect on virus transmission rates,” said the letter signed by Lucy Powell, Graham Stringer, Jeff Smith, Mike Kane and Afzal Khan.
David Greenhalgh, the Tory leader of Bolton Council, said: “The North feels like they are being treated differently and we know our rates are high, we’re not underestimating that but we have to find a way through this.
“We cannot throw our local economy to the wall, particularly in the North.”
During the weekend, senior No 10 aides and Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick also held discussions with local authority leaders and mayors from the highest areas of concern.
Giving local authorities a key role in the NHS Test and Trace programme was also talked about.
Mr Johnson briefed Cabinet ministers on the new three-level alert regime in a conference call from Downing Street yesterday afternoon. The Prime Minister also spoke to Steve Rotheram, the Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region last night.
Mr Johnson will chair a meeting of the Government’s “Cobra” emergency planning committee to finalise the alert system this morning.
Rishi Sunak will join the Prime Minister today
His latest move follows data showing worrying surges in coronavirus infection rates around the country, particularly in parts of the North of England.
Deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam and NHS chiefs are to set out the latest data in a public briefing this morning. He said yesterday the country was at a “tipping point” similar to earlier this year before the first national lockdown.
Official daily data showed another 12,872 new cases of infection and a further 65 deaths.
Ministers are particularly concerned about a surge in cases in Nottingham, where the weekly infection rate has now topped 800 cases per 100,000 people. A total of 2,763 new cases were recorded in Nottingham in week to October 8, more than double the number in the previous seven days.
Manchester City Council leader Sir Richard Leese yesterday confirmed his city was to be put under the strictest lockdown measures with a review every four week.
He warned there was a “large gulf” between local authorities and ministers.
“We seem to have an almost impossible task of penetrating the Westminster bubble,” he told Times Radio.
Sir Richard said his council’s own data showed there was “no evidence closing pubs works”.
Mr Jenrick, the Communities Secretary, yesterday insisted the latest crackdown was not aimed at “punishing the North.”
In a round of broadcast interviews, he said: “These apply across the whole of the United Kingdom and there is nothing that we would ever do that penalises one part of the country over another.”
Mr Jenrick also confirmed that the Government wanted local authorities to take a greater responsibility for coronavirus testing.
“People who know their own community, particularly harder to reach communities, are bound to be better than Whitehall or national contact tracers.
“So we’re going to be supporting them to do that. I think they also want to have more flexibility, for example, over where testing sites might be located in their community,” he said.
Coronavirus social distancing graphic
More than seven out of ten (73%) Britons support local lockdowns, an opinion poll showed yesterday.
Six out of ten would also support banning all travel in and out of the country, the survey of more than 1,800 people by Ipsos Mori also found.
But voters in the poll were split about the possibility of a second full national lockdown with 43% in favour and 40% against.
More than eight out of 10 (81%) backed the current measures including face masks in shops and on public transport.
Ben Page, chief executive of Ipsos MORI, said: “After months of lockdowns, semi-lock downs, and huge disruption from Covid-19 the British public remain highly concerned about the virus.
“The majority of people are willing to make significant personal sacrifices to curb the rise in infections, even if that means local lockdowns in their own area.”
Published at Sun, 11 Oct 2020 23:01:00 +0000