Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed a tiered system of further restrictions on parts of England on Monday, including shutting pubs, to curb an acceleration in Covid-19 cases, though anger was rising at the cost of the curtailment of freedoms.
The lockdowns will include shutting pubs and bars and banning wedding receptions in areas placed in the “very high” alert level from Wednesday. The other alert levels in the new system are “medium” and “high”.
So far, Merseyside in northwest England – which includes the city of Liverpool – is the only area classified at the “very high” level. Gyms, leisure centres, casinos, betting shops and adult gaming centres there will also close, Johnson said.
“We must act to save lives,” Johnson told parliament, adding that he did not want another national lockdown and that he understood the frustrations of those chafing at the “repressions of liberty”.
“If we let the virus rip, then the bleak mathematics dictate that we would suffer not only an intolerable death toll from Covid, but we would put such a huge strain on our NHS with an uncontrolled second spike that our doctors and nurses would simply be unable to devote themselves to other treatments.”
‘May need stricter restrictions’
Meanwhile, housing secretary Robert Jenrick said on Tuesday (Oct 13) that the government may have to impose stricter restrictions than it currently has if the second wave of the novel coronavirus accelerates in high risk areas.
“The message that we did deliver to those leaders in Merseyside was that we need to take these steps, we probably even need to go further but that we want to design those steps jointly between ourselves and local government,” Jenrick said.
Under the rules announced by Johnson pubs that serve substantial meals can stay open while purely drinking establishments will have to close in high risk areas. There was, though, some confusion over the definition of a substantial meal.
“A substantial meal means the kind of meal that you’d have for lunch or the kind of meal you’d have for dinner – a proper meal. It doesn’t mean a packet of crisps or a plate of chips or a bag of pork scratchings,” Jenrick said.
Health officials say the freshest data showed infections were rising across the north of England and in some more southerly areas too, while the virus was creeping up age bands towards the elderly from those aged 16-29 years.
Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser, said the standard restrictions that would apply to very high risk areas would not be enough to control the outbreak there, and urged local authorities to go further.
“The base will not be sufficient … but there are additional things that can be done within that guidance,” he said.
Schools, restaurants and most workplaces will remain open even in the “very high” risk areas.
Manchester intensive care consultant Jane Eddleston said 30 per cent of critical care beds were taken up with Covid-19 patients and this was starting to affect healthcare for others.
“This is not how we want to live our lives but this is the narrow path we have to tread between the social and economic trauma of a full lockdown and massive human and indeed economic cost of an uncontained epidemic,” Johnson said.
The three-tiered system applies only to England as devolved authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have responsibility for their own health arrangements.