UK unveils 3-tier lockdown plan; Liverpool most at risk

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LONDON – The UK government split England into three coronavirus risk levels on Monday in an attempt to slow the resurgence of an epidemic, placing the city of north Liverpool in the highest risk category and closing its pubs, gyms and betting shops. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the national three-tier system was designed to “simplify and standardize” a confusing patchwork of local rules on what residents can and cannot do. Johnson said stores, schools and universities will remain open in all areas.

He told House of Commons lawmakers the goal was to save lives and prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed without “shutting down our lives and our society” with a new national lockdown.

But pubs, restaurants and other hospitality businesses have pushed back, arguing they’re not responsible for the rise in infections.

After dropping during the summer, coronavirus cases are on the rise in the UK as winter approaches, with the North West and North East of England recording the largest increases. Liverpool has one of the most serious epidemics in the country, with around 600 cases per 100,000 people, even more than the hard-hit European cities of Madrid and Brussels.

Under the new measures, areas in England are classified as medium, high or very high risk and subject to restrictions of varying severity.

Areas at the lowest level will follow existing national restrictions, including a 22-hour curfew on pubs and restaurants and a ban on assembling more than six people. In high risk areas, members of different households are prohibited from meeting indoors.

The “very high” risk level will be subject to restrictions, including the closure of pubs – except those that serve meals – and, if local authorities wish, other places such as gymnasiums and restaurants. casinos.

Liverpool was the only area ranked higher on Monday, but Johnson said authorities were still in discussions with other local leaders in northern England.

Liverpool pubs, gyms, entertainment centers, betting shops and casinos will close from Wednesday.

Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson said local authorities supported tighter restrictions as long as they were accompanied by improved testing and traceability measures to suppress clusters of infections – which he said the government had accepted.

“In addition to protecting lives and doing things to fight the virus, we also need to protect livelihoods, so we have really been pushing for a stronger financial package,” said Anderson, a member of the Labor Party. ‘opposition. “Unfortunately, it was not listened to. ”

The government has announced a support program to pay two-thirds of the salaries of employees of companies told to close, but many in the pub and restaurant industry say that is not enough to save already struggling businesses .

Labor Party leader Keir Starmer said he doubted the new measures would go far enough to “control this virus, protect jobs or maintain public confidence”.

The UK has experienced the deadliest epidemic in Europe, with an official death toll of 42,875. Health officials say Britain is at a tipping point in the epidemic, with aggressive action needed to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed at a time when they are already busiest with influenza and d ‘other winter diseases.

Stephen Powis, medical director of the National Health Service in England, said there were currently more people hospitalized with the virus than there were when the country entered its national lockdown in March.

He said three temporary COVID-19 hospitals in the north of England that were put on hold when the outbreak receded over the summer are ready to admit patients again in the coming weeks.

England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam said on Monday that while the north of England has the highest infection rates, cases are on the rise across the country. Infections have increased most rapidly in older teens and young adults, who usually suffer from mild symptoms, but spread to older and more at risk groups.

“It’s a national phenomenon now,” Van-Tam said.

Owners of bars and restaurants say the government has not shared any evidence to support the claim that they are the main sources of transmission of the virus.

Manchester City Council Chief Richard Leese said data from city public health officials “appears to show that there is no particular link between bars and restaurants and the transmission of COVID “.

But Calum Semple, professor of epidemic medicine at the University of Liverpool and a member of the government emergency science advisory group, said that “most outbreaks happen in and between households and then after that it is in the retail and hospitality industry. ”

He said the new measures would take several weeks to reduce the number of hospitalizations and deaths – if they were strong enough to make a difference.

“The epidemic is a bit like a super-tanker,” Semple told the BBC. “You put the brakes on, but it takes a long time to see the effect. ”

The measures announced on Monday apply to England. The rest of the UK is subject to similar and sometimes stricter restrictions. In Scotland’s two largest cities, Glasgow and Edinburgh, pubs have been closed for 16 days to quell the outbreak.

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Danica Kirka in London contributed to this story.

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