Covid: Tighter rules kick in for millions in England


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image captionMore than half of England’s population is now under further coronavirus restrictions, such as not being able to mix with other households indoors

Millions of people have seen Covid-19 rules tighten as areas have moved up England’s new three-tier alert system.

London and York are among those moving up to tier two, meaning people cannot mix with other households indoors.

A stalemate continues between Greater Manchester’s local leaders and central government over stricter new measures.

Boris Johnson says the spread of coronavirus in Greater Manchester is “grave” and he may “need to intervene” if the measures are not agreed.

More than half of England – in excess of 28 million people – is now under extra coronavirus restrictions.

Lancashire has joined the Liverpool City Region in the top tier – tier three. Pubs must close and the ban on mixing households extends to many outdoor settings.

London, Essex, York, Elmbridge, Barrow-in-Furness, North East Derbyshire, Erewash and Chesterfield have moved into tier two, meaning they can no longer mix inside with those from other households, including in pubs and restaurants.

Areas of England in the lowest tier must keep to the nationwide virus rules such as group sizes being capped at six people, and the hospitality industry closing at 22:00.

In Wales, a two-week “fire break” – a period with tighter restrictions to help break the trajectory of coronavirus cases rising – is expected within days.

Most licensed premises in Scotland’s central belt are closed under temporary restrictions, which are expected to be replaced by a similar multi-tiered system to the one in England by the end of the month.

Celtic and Rangers football fans are being urged not to cross the border into England to watch the Old Firm game in pubs on Saturday.

Divisions over circuit-breaker

Calls for a circuit-breaker – a short but strict national lockdown – have been supported by Labour.

Britain’s largest teachers’ union, the National Education Union, has called for secondary schools in England to shut for two weeks at half term, rather than the traditional one week.

Mr Johnson has said that while he could not “rule anything out”, he wants to avoid a national lockdown because of “the damaging health, economic and social effects it would have”.

New vocab in the Covid phrasebook

Early on, we got to grips with Covidiots, superspreaders, and Zoom-bombing. But now “circuit-breaker” and “tier three” are grappling for position in the Covid phrasebook.

An electrical circuit-breaker is an automatic switch which detects faults and stops power flowing through a device, to prevent it from overheating or short-circuiting.

The UK is, metaphorically speaking, that faulty device. The phrase “circuit-breaker” is being used to describe the idea of a short, nationwide lockdown, to help slow the spread of Covid-19.

But Wales’s first minister has instead termed the possibility of a two-week lockdown a “fire-break”.

It comes as the hospitality industry warned of widespread job losses if businesses do not receive further financial support from the government.

Some 750,000 hospitality jobs could be lost by February 2021, according to an industry survey by three trade bodies in the UK.

“Without urgent sector-specific support for our industry, massive business failure is imminent,” a spokesman for UK Hospitality, the British Institute of Innkeeping and the British Beer & Pub Association said.

image copyrightPA Media

image captionGreater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, along with other leaders in the region, is resisting the PM’s call to enter the highest level of restrictions

In Greater Manchester, local leaders are resisting a move to tier three’s strict rules on hospitality – pressing instead for more shielding measures for the vulnerable, extra financial aid and stricter local powers to shut down venues breaking virus guidelines.

“We firmly believe that protecting health is about more than controlling the virus and requires proper support for people whose lives would be severely affected by a tier three lockdown,” the deputy mayors and council leaders said in a joint statement.

“We can assure the prime minister that we are ready to meet at any time to try to agree a way forward.”

Mr Johnson warned on Friday that the situation in Manchester, currently in tier two, was worsening and that he may intervene if the new measures cannot be agreed with the region’s leaders.

Local leaders in north-east England are urging residents to “do their bit” to avoid being put under tier three restrictions. In a joint statement, council leaders in Northumberland, Newcastle, South and North Tyneside, Gateshead, Sunderland and County Durham said they were committed to “ongoing, constructive dialogue” with central government.

Public Health England’s medical director Yvonne Doyle told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that officials from local and national public health services were working “extremely hard… to try and ensure that we do the right thing at the right time with the maximum amount of agreement”.

She also urged the public to abide by the rules and “understand why that’s important”.

Rochdale council leader Allen Brett told BBC Newsnight that if Mr Johnson imposed tougher restrictions “then we will have to accept it” but added: “What we want is proper negotiations.

“I stood by all day waiting for a meeting which never took place – I understand now it will take place on Monday – and we need reassurances that this tier three will be time limited and will be effective and I don’t think his scientists think it will.”

Labour’s shadow education secretary, Kate Green, said there were no talks between the government and Greater Manchester’s leaders on Friday because “No 10 did not pick up the phone”.

“I’m absolutely with the prime minister in saying we have to have an urgent resolution to this – we’re putting lives at risk – but it has to be done by stopping the blame game and getting everyone around the table,” she told the Today programme.

media caption“Time is of the essence” for Manchester – Boris Johnson

Meanwhile, county councils in England are calling for the government to give local authorities more control over the test-and-trace system.

The County Councils Network, which represents local authorities in mainly rural parts of the country, hopes to avoid the prospect of greater restrictions in these areas.

The PM said on Friday that the UK was developing the capacity to manufacture millions of tests that could deliver results in just 15 minutes.

The new tests are “faster, simpler and cheaper”, Mr Johnson said, adding that work is being carried out to ensure they can be manufactured and distributed in the UK.

The government has set a target of 500,000 tests a day by the end of the month.

Oxford University’s Sir John Bell, who has advised the government on its testing programme, told the Today programme it could be “possible” for the UK to carry out a million tests a day by Christmas – but added that logistics such as getting swabs to testing centres quickly were “the limiting factor”.

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