New England-wide measures that could cause hospitality businesses to shut down are being considered by the UK government to slow an outbreak of coronavirus cases.
A short period of tighter restrictions – lasting a few weeks – could be announced next week, said BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg.
Schools and most workplaces would remain open during those weeks.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC the government was “ready to do the right thing” against Covid-19.
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Speaking to BBC Breakfast, the Health Secretary said there had been an ‘acceleration’ in the number of coronavirus cases over the past two weeks and the number of people admitted to hospital with coronavirus doubled about every week.
He stressed that it was “essential” that people follow social distancing guidelines and local lockdown rules – where they apply.
“If we do all of these things, we can avoid having to take serious new steps,” he told the program.
In a meeting on Wednesday evening, the chief scientific adviser and the government medical adviser predicted that there would be a significant number of deaths by the end of October if there were no further interventions .
Possible measures under discussion – described by the government as a “blackout” – include calling for the closure of some hotel businesses or limiting the opening hours of some pubs and restaurants across the country.
No final decision has yet been made on the next course of action.
Labor shadow secretary for health Jonathan Ashworth said it was “no surprise that national restrictions are back on the table” as Britain’s testing system “crumbles”.
The virus is now said to double every seven to eight days, with more than 3,300 new cases reported on Thursday.
And after being in single digits for much of the past six weeks, the daily number of people dying within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test has risen above 20 in the past three days.
In France and Spain, a rapid surge saw the two countries register more than 10,000 new positive cases per day, more than 20 times the level in June.
It comes as new restrictions have come into force in north-east England, affecting nearly two million people. The measures prohibit people from meeting other households, and restaurants and pubs will have to close at 10 p.m. BST.
An announcement on a possible lockdown in the northwest of England is expected from the government later on Friday.
Restrictions for Lancashire, but not Blackpool, are expected to include a similar ban on mixing households and a requirement for hospitality businesses to close early.
And it is understood the government has said no to a local council request to close Leeds bars and pubs at 10 p.m. BST.
Leeds will know later if further action is planned in the city.
The UK’s four countries are all responsible for their own lockdown restrictions, with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland having slightly different rules than England.
Options for ministers
As part of the so-called “blackout,” restrictions could be reintroduced in some public spaces across the country for a period of a few weeks, but schools and workplaces would remain open.
One of the ideas suggested by the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) is that parts of the hospitality industry could be asked to shut down.
No. 10 is also considering the possibility of limiting the opening hours of pubs and restaurants across the country, as has already happened in some regions.
The health secretary said the government’s current approach was “targeted interventions” and stressed that “a national lockdown is the last line of defense”.
“The strategy is to reduce the virus as much as possible while protecting education and the economy,” Hancock added.
“And throw it all on the science which is ultimately how we’re going to get out of this. “
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is said to be deeply reluctant to order another national lockdown, where everyone is asked to stay at home and businesses to be closed.
Earlier this week, he called “disastrous” the potential impact of a second national lockdown on the economy.
On Thursday morning, Chancellor Rishi Sunak reportedly issued warnings on the damage to the economy.
And ministers are also concerned about the impact of more restrictions on daily life on those who need treatment for illnesses unrelated to Covid.
It is not yet clear what impact this week’s new rule banning social gatherings of more than six people will have on the rate of increase, and No.10 continues to monitor the data and take scientific advice.
But it seems increasingly likely that in the next week the prime minister will tighten national rules again, our correspondent said.
Parts of north-east England joined other parts of the UK on Friday on being subject to local lockdown rules.
The measures cover Newcastle, Gateshead, Sunderland, Northumberland, South Tyneside, North Tyneside and the County Durham area.
In addition to the ban on mixing households and the early closings of pubs and restaurants, people are also expected to use public transport only for essential travel and nursing homes are closed to visitors.
- Read more: Local lockdown in North East England begins
There are also local lockdown restrictions elsewhere in the UK, including Birmingham, Greater Manchester, Caerphilly and the Belfast Council area.
In other key developments:
Rapid test can accurately diagnose coronavirus infection in 90 minutes without the need for a specialized lab, scientists say
- Personal protective equipment will be free for nursing homes until next March, as part of a government coronavirus plan for NHS England in winter
- UK retail sales continued to rise for the fourth consecutive month, boosted by spending on household goods and DIY, official figures show
- New Years fireworks display in London will not take place this year, London Mayor Sadiq Khan told LBC
- The number of new weekly cases in Europe has exceeded the number reported during the first peak of the pandemic, the head of the World Health Organization in Europe has warned.
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