UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will on Monday reveal plans for a series of new local lockdown restrictions as the number of people being hospitalised with the coronavirus in the UK exceeds the level seen at the start of first national lockdown.
Johnson will unveil the plan to Members of Parliament this afternoon before explaining them to the nation in a televised press conference alongside his scientific advisers at 18:00 (BST.)
The UK government is under growing pressure to escalate lockdown measures after a surge in new infections across the country — particularly in the north of England and cities Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, and Newcastle.
Senior scientific and medical advisers to the government on Monday morning unveiled the scale of the crisis facing the UK, with 3,451 hospitalizations on October 11 compared to just 3,079 on the day the country locked down in the final week of March.
Johnson is not expected to announce the full list of areas of England which will be affected. Instead, he is set the explain how the new system will work in broad terms, before the government announces later this week how it will be applied to different areas of the country.
A Downing Street spokesperson on Sunday night 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.”
What is the system?
A passenger ferry crosses the River Mersey in Liverpool on October 12, 2020 as the government is expected to announce further lockdown restrictions today as coronavirus infection rates rocket across the northwest of England.
The UK government is calling its new system “local COVID alert levels.” It will be a tiered system — or traffic-light system — under which regions will be put into one of three tiers depending on how serious their rate of coronavirus infections is: “medium,” “high,” and “very high.”
Johnson is expected to announce later today which restrictions will come with each tier.
What we know already is that “medium” will be the least severe tier and areas put into this category will be asked to continue with no more than the current national measures: the rule of six, the 10pm curfew for the hospitality industry, and well-known social distancing measures like regular hand washing and the wearing of face masks.
Those areas placed in the “high” category are expected to face restrictions on household mixing, though specific details have not been confirmed. In some areas of England and in Scotland, which sets its own lockdown rules, people are already banned from meeting with people from other households.
And those labelled “very high” face a large package of restrictions reminiscent of dramatic measures taken for the first lockdown earlier this year.
Local leaders in Liverpool, one of the country’s worst-affected regions in terms of new infections, revealed what areas put into the “very high” tier could expect in a statement on Sunday. They said that pubs, bars, gyms, casinos, betting shops, and adult gaming centres will be closed imminently, potentially as soon as today. As of this morning, the government had not confirmed whether restaurants would also be made to shut their doors as part of the toughest restrictions. There are also expected to be tight restrictions on household mixing and travel outside of your area.
Police officers during a protest against lockdown restrictions coordinated by StandUpX outside the Senedd Cymru Welsh Parliament in Cardiff Bay.
Johnson’s government has received criticism from virtually all sides of the political spectrum over how it has rolled out this new system.
Opponents have accused them of being too slow to act as infections rate soar, while local leaders have expressed fury over details of the plan being leaked to the press while they and their communities wait for official news from the government.
Many are also opposed to the closure of the hospital industry due to concerns that it will lead to financial ruin for large numbers of business owners. Andrew Gwynne, the Labour MP for Denton & Reddish in Manchester, tweeted that he did not support the closure of pubs and bars, arguing that it would “destroy” businesses and lead to people illegally mixing in households. He was echoed by Conservative William Wragg, another MP in the city of Manchester, who said that transmission is “much higher” in households than in hospitality settings.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak is also set to come under intense pressure to expand financial support for businesses forced to close by new lockdown measures. Sunak announced last week that the government would pay for two-thirds of the wages of workers at businesses forced to close. However, this falls short of the furlough scheme created earlier this year which paid 80% of wages.