The Liverpool city area was the only area classified as very high risk on Monday – with pubs being forced to close and household mixing banned under almost all circumstances from Wednesday for at least four weeks.
Greater Manchester and the North East have resisted attempts to shut down their hotel sectors, insisting ministers failed to provide scientific evidence and saying the measures were proving counterproductive.
But Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, told a Downing Street press conference that even the toughest curbs are unlikely to contain the spread of the virus to the worst-affected areas and said authorities local should add additional restrictions. “The base will not be sufficient. I think that’s very clearly the professional point of view, ”he said.
Documents leaked to the Guardian last week said Sage scientists had advised the closure of all Level 3 hospitality and recreation venues, suggesting the measures have since been watered down. Whitty said significant sacrifices would have to be made in the coming months. “The idea that we can do this without causing harm is an illusion,” he said.
More people are hospitalized with Covid-19 than when the country went into full lockdown on March 23, Johnson said at the briefing, as cases reached levels last seen in early May. “These numbers flash at us like warnings on the dashboard of a jet aircraft, and we need to act now,” he said.
However, soon after, documents were released showing that Sage had advised the government three weeks ago to put in place five measures including a short “circuit breaker” lockout, if not face a “very large epidemic”.
Official documents dated September 21 also called for a ban on domestic mixing in homes; the closure of all bars, restaurants, cafes, indoor gymnasiums and services such as hairdressers; and all university and college education must be online “unless absolutely essential”. Only one of Sage’s five proposals has been introduced nationwide – a urge for people to work from home if they can.
The tough new restrictions come amid anger from northern mayors and some Tory MPs over the level of financial support for areas facing disruption. A number of local lawmakers and politicians claimed they did not attend meetings on the new system or were only given notice of minutes.
Despite calls on the government to increase the level of leave for workers in companies forced to close their doors by new lockdowns, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the information measures he announced last week were sufficient to protect people from financial hardship.
To allay the anger in the backbenchers, the PM also announced another billion pounds of “new financial support” for local areas struggling to contain the economic fallout.
In a sign that Downing Street is hoping to persuade parts of the north to agree to tougher measures, Johnson told MPs he was urging leaders to continue negotiations. “I think not to act would be unforgivable, so I hope that rapid progress can be made in the days to come,” he said.
Johnson added: “If we cannot come to an agreement, then it is clearly the duty of the national government to take the necessary steps to protect public and public health and we will. ”
Andy Street, the Conservative West Midlands mayor, reacted with fury to general Level 2 restrictions in his area – prohibiting households from mingling indoors but subjecting outdoor meetings to the rule of six – and left hear he was blinded by the decision.
“This is not something regional leaders have supported, nor what I thought would happen from long conversations over the past few days. The region was united, multi-party, to support the existing restrictions, ”he said. “This is something that the latest local epidemiology does not support, and I am disappointed that the government is continuing this action despite the united point of view of local leaders.”
Johnson said he wanted to “simplify and standardize” the rules while avoiding a new national lockdown. In the Liverpool city area pubs and bars are to close unless they are food based and only serve alcohol at meals. Restaurants can remain open. Gyms, recreation centers, casinos, betting shops and adult game stores will close, although this is not planned for all level 3 lockdowns.
Johnson described the Liverpool area as the area where the government was able to “come to an agreement”. He said negotiations are continuing with local leaders and health officials are preparing to change their mind if regions like Greater Manchester continue on the same trajectory.
However, Liverpool area mayor Steve Rotheram said it was “dishonest” to suggest that Merseyside rulers were behind the decision to introduce tighter restrictions. He told Channel 4 News: “There was no choice with what level we were going to and the restrictions we were therefore under. ”
Three Emergency Nightingale hospitals in Manchester, Sunderland and Harrogate have been called on to mobilize, ready to receive patients. Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy medical director, warned: “It’s a national phenomenon. The rate is moving up across the UK. ”
Most of England will be at the lowest level, retaining measures introduced last month, including the rule of six for rallies and the 10pm curfew for pubs and other hospitality businesses, said Johnson.
As infection rates rise in London, a government source said: “It is not moving at the same speed. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that there will be additional action in London at some point, but not in a few days.
The ‘high’ level (level 2) applies mainly to areas already under local lockdown: Greater Manchester, Birmingham, Leicester and large parts of the North East and North West, as well as Nottinghamshire, the East and West Cheshire, and a small area of High Peak in Derbyshire.
Labor leader Keir Starmer, in one of his most critical speeches to date, said the government had yet to prove local lockdowns were effective. “The question today is whether the restrictions announced by the Prime Minister can bring the country back from the brothel, if they can regain control of the virus and provide the support and confidence that businesses and local communities need.
A number of Conservative MPs have called on the Prime Minister not to allow areas to linger too long under the restrictions. Philip Davies, MP for Shipley in West Yorkshire, warned of what he called “a constant storm of arbitrary rules that will only serve to collapse the economy and destroy businesses and jobs”.
Jane Stevenson, one of the Conservative MPs elected in 2019, suggested that she privately opposed further restrictions for her constituency of North East Wolverhampton, saying Level 2 had been imposed “despite protests by three deputies and the local council ”.
The measures will be debated and voted on in the Commons on Tuesday and will come into force on Wednesday. A number of Labor and Conservative MPs have indicated they may be ready to vote against the restrictions, particularly the 10pm national curfew.