London is on course for an imminent tightening of coronavirus restrictions, as cases continue to rise in Britain and its response fragments.
A change in the rules in the UK capital is likely in very short order, according to an official in London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s office. Khan and health leaders met Wednesday to discuss the potential move into stricter restrictions, which would ban two separate households from meeting indoors, the official said. London will soon hit an average of 100 cases per 100,000 people, the person said.
The move by London would follow stricter measures taken by Northern Ireland and Wales to combat the virus. Northern Ireland is planning to close schools from Monday and impose new curbs on pubs and restaurants, while Wales wants to restrict travel from English hot spots, with new regulations coming into force Friday.
Ministers and officials will brief MPs from northern England on Thursday morning on proposals for further curbs across large parts of the region, and Health Secretary Matt Hancock will update MPs in the House of Commons at about 11:30 a.m.
The government has earmarked Greater Manchester for stricter restrictions, but has been locked in talks with local leaders over financial support for businesses and individuals affected by any new curbs.
There was anger from all sides that people in the area had not been kept fully informed of the plans.
“It is frustrating to keep learning of these developments from second-hand sources, alongside the speculation and hearsay,” William Wragg, the Tory MP for Hazel Grove in Greater Manchester, said on Twitter. “Says it all really,” he wrote, after discovering he had not been invited to a meeting of the region’s MPs.
Britain’s increasingly fractured coronavirus picture comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson resists calls for a “circuit-breaker” national lockdown and continues to pursue a localized approach. He is trying to balance reducing virus transmission with keeping as much of the economy open as possible. He set out a three-tiered system of regional Covid alert levels this week to try to simplify the imposition of social-distancing measures.
In England, the Liverpool region is currently the only area under the toughest rules in Johnson’s new three-tier system — with any pubs not serving food forced to close. Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, who was briefed by government medical adviser Jonathan Van Tam on Wednesday evening, says he wants more support before agreeing to additional restrictions.
Business Minister Nadhim Zahawi appeared to confirm that new restrictions will be imposed in an interview with Sky News, before backtracking to say there needs to be agreement from local authorities.
The meeting with MPs will be so “they can hear from the chief medical officer as to why we’re having to take this action,” Zahawi said. When pressed on whether that meant it was a foregone conclusion, he said “they need to see the data and of course that decision will be made jointly with local leaders.”
Johnson is determined to avoid a national lockdown and pushed back against a proposal by Keir Starmer, leader of the oppisition Labour Party, for a two-to-three week “circuit breaker” to stem the spread of the disease.
“Let’s try to avoid the misery of another national lockdown,” Johnson told the House of Commons on Wednesday. “I rule out nothing, of course, in combating the virus, but we are going to do it with the local, the regional approach that can drive down and will drive down the virus if it is properly implemented.”
On Wednesday, the UK recorded 137 Covid-19 deaths, down marginally on Tuesday’s 143, which was the highest daily death toll since June. New cases rose by 19,724, compared to 17,234 the day before. Scientists warn numbers will continue to rise.
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