LONDON (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday (Oct 12) imposed a tiered system of further restrictions on parts of England including closing some pubs as the coronavirus outbreak accelerates, though anger is rising at the cost of the curtailment of freedoms.
Mr Johnson’s three-tier system, announced in Parliament, is an attempt to standardise a patchwork of often complicated and confusing restrictions across England. Lawmakers will vote on the move.
The lockdowns will include shutting pubs and bars in areas placed into the “very high” alert level.
So far, Merseyside is the only area in that category, which includes the city of Liverpool, where the outbreak is spreading the fastest.
Gyms, leisure centres, betting shops, adult gaming centres and casinos in Merseyside will close, the prime minister said.
“I take no pleasure whatsoever in placing restrictions on these businesses. Nor do I want to stop people enjoying themselves. But we must act to save lives,” Mr Johnson told Parliament, adding that he did not want another national lockdown.
“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.”
The rising infection rates meant action must be taken immediately, he added.
Having been criticised for a lack of outreach to mayors and councils, Mr Johnson’s office has stressed that the latest measures had been discussed with local leaders over the weekend, with the prime minister speaking directly to Steve Rotheram, mayor of the Liverpool City Region.
SOARING INFECTIONS ACROSS NORTH ENGLAND
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.
“Pretty much all areas of the UK are now seeing growths in the infection rate,” England Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van-Tam told reporters. “The epidemic, this time, has clearly picked up pace in the north of England earlier than it did in the first wave.”
Manchester intensive care consultant Jane Eddleston said 30 per cent of critical care beds were taken up with Covid-19 patients – starting to impact on healthcare for other patients.
“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,” Mr Johnson said. “The weeks and months ahead will continue to be difficult and will test the mettle of this country.
But as millions of people across Britain grapple with restrictions, the hospitality sector says it is being brought to its knees by the government. Some pub owners are contemplating legal action over the move to close pubs, saying Mr Johnson had not produced the evidence to explain why they were being targetted.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden earlier told Sky News that academic research had showed the risk of spreading the virus was higher in hospitality settings such as bars and restaurants.
The Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), a British trade body, on Sunday said the industry has taken legal action to stop lockdown measures from being imposed.
LAWSUITS AGAINST THE GOVERNMENT
“The industry has been left with no other option but to legally challenge the so-called ‘common sense’ approach narrative from government, on the implementation of further restrictions across the north of England,” NTIA CEO Michael Kill said.
“These new measures will have a catastrophic impact on late night businesses, and are exacerbated further by an insufficient financial support package.”
The British government has faced multiple lawsuits over its response to the coronavirus, from the availability of medical equipment to student exam results. The legal manoeuvres can force officials to explain the reasoning behind policies or even make them abandon some measures.
Britain recorded 13,972 new Covid-19 infections and another 50 deaths on Monday. In all, it has seen more than 617,000 confirmed cases and nearly 43,000 fatalities from the disease, official government figures showed.
Northern England has been particularly hard hit by a new surge of the deadly virus that has forced local lockdowns as students returned to schools and universities.
“Of course, it is very challenging for people,” Liverpool Mayor Steve Rotherdam said on Sunday. “The measures we are taking are having a bad impact on health, they are having a bad impact on the economy, but ultimately it is better to do that than to allow the virus to get out of control.”
BRITAIN’S NEW LOCKDOWN SYSTEM, EXPLAINED
The new system of lockdown rules announced on Monday classifies the risk level in regions to help tackle rising coronavirus infection rates in parts of England.
There are three tiers of regulations.
TIER ONE: MEDIUM
This tier is expected to cover a significant part of the country. It is essentially a continuation of the existing rules that apply across the country. The main points are:
• Rule of six: When seeing friends and family you do not live with, you should meet in groups of six or fewer.
• Early hospitality closure: Businesses selling food or drink, indoor leisure centres or facilities, funfairs, theme parks, and bingo halls, must be closed between 10pm and 5am.
TIER TWO: HIGH
Most areas that have already been placed under some form of local lockdown will be put in this category, with the intention of preventing further household-to-household transmission of the virus.
• All mixing between households indoors is prohibited.
• The rule of six applies outdoors.
TIER THREE: VERY HIGH
This applies in the areas of greatest concern, and will define a minimum set of rules:
• Social mixing is prohibited indoors and in private gardens.
• Pubs and bars will be told to close.
• Additional measures can be imposed with the agreement of local leaders. These could include closing other sectors such as gyms and casinos.
• Schools, universities and non-essential retail will not be closed.
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