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Millions could be banned from socialising under new three-tier coronavirus restrictions

Written by on 11 October 2020

Millions of people could be banned from mixing inside and outside – and thousands of pubs might be forced to close under new coronavirus restrictions.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to outline a new three-tiered system of restrictions on Monday, with measures expected to force hospitality venues to shut across the north of England.

Under the proposed system, different parts of the country would be placed in different categories, with areas in the highest level expected to face the toughest measures.

The move could affect millions of people living in areas with high COVID-19 rates across England, and comes amid mounting concern over the growing number of coronavirus cases and the capacity of intensive care units at hospitals.

Leaders across northern England have criticised the government’s plans which they say have been drawn up without consulting them from the outset. They have also not ruled out legal action.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick rejected claims there has been a lack of consultation with regional chiefs.

He told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday the government has been “designing” restrictions for COVID hotspots “in conjunction with people who know those places best”.

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Asked on what basis areas will move between tiers that could carry a harsher lockdown, he said people would need to “wait to see what the PM says” but a range of different factors have been taken into account.

Cases per 100,000 are “significant” – but also hospitalisations and the nature of infections, he said.

“Though the number of cases is rising rapidly across the country there are still huge variations,” he said. “If you go to North Norfolk the latest statistics showed that the number of cases is around 19, if you go to Manchester it’s well over 500.

“So, it is right that we pursue a localised approach. That must be the way forward because none of us want to see a return to blanket national measures – that would be the alternative.”

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Asked if there would be a ban on mixing outside, Mr Jenrick did not rule it out and said he “can’t say”, but added there would be support for those people affected by fresh restrictions.

Northern leaders have called for a better financial package from Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who has pledged workers at businesses forced to shut due to stricter lockdown measures will have two-thirds of their salaries paid by the government.

Mr Jenrick told Ridge ministers understood a “challenging” winter lies ahead.

“We can’t promise to protect every job and every business,” he said, but can offer “hope and opportunity” to people with more money for training and apprenticeships, adding that the chancellor had put forward a “fair and generous package to support businesses”.

People in Liverpool were out on the town ahead on Saturday night as measures are expected to be tightened
People in Liverpool were out on the town ahead on Saturday night before measures are expected to be tightened

Westminster has been drawing up proposals to give mayors more powers over the test and trace system to try to secure the support of northern leaders, according to The Sunday Times.

Details of the plans were being thrashed out between ministers and mayors on Saturday amid warnings that immediate action is needed to stop the NHS being swamped in the North, the newspaper added.

Asked if local mayors would be given more control over test and trace efforts, Mr Jenrick told Ridge: “Yes, we want to work very closely with the local mayors and with the councils.

“We are going to be ensuring that the national testing infrastructure… works in harmony with what’s happening locally… because local councils and local communities are very good at contact tracing.”

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Burnham: Govt measures will ‘widen North-South divide’ the economy

Northern leaders have called for MPs to vote on the chancellor’s targeted furlough scheme for the hospitality industry in areas where tougher restrictions are imposed.

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show northern Labour Party MPs will be looking at mechanisms to ensure this happens.

“What we really want, though, is for the government to come forward with a package of financial support that enables people to comply with the health restrictions,” she said.

“People are being told that they’re going to have to exist on 67% of their wages despite not having a job to go to, but they’re having to pay 100% of their rent and bills.”

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It comes as the number of people in hospital with coronavirus increased across every part of England on Saturday – rising to 1,167 in the North West from 725 previous week.

England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam warned the country is at a tipping point similar to the first wave of coronavirus, but can prevent history repeating itself.

A further 15,166 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK were reported on Saturday, and 81 more deaths were confirmed of people who died within 28 days of testing positive for COVID-19.

Separate figures published by the UK’s statistics agencies show there have now been 58,000 deaths registered in the UK where COVID-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

In North Wales, new coronavirus restrictions were introduced in Bangor at 6pm on Saturday, meaning people will not be allowed to enter or leave the area without a “reasonable excuse” and can only meet people they do not live with outdoors.