What new coronavirus lockdown rules could Boris Johnson announce? What we know so far
Boris Johnson is poised to announce tough new lockdown measures for northern England from Monday.
The Prime Minister could force new rules on areas including Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle – as well as Nottingham – after the infection rate soared.
But there is still no announcement and ministers haven’t even decided what to do – despite desperate pleas from SAGE and large tracts of the plan leaking to media outlets.
Local leaders across Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle are in the dark as ministers argue among themselves over what tough new restrictions to apply.
So what do we know about what could be announced and when will something happen?
Here’s everything we do – and don’t – know so far.
Boris Johnson is understood to be considering a shutdown of pubs in large areas of the north of England as part of a new ‘three-tier’ local lockdown system.
Restaurants and some shops would be forced to shut, but workplaces and schools would remain open.
The tiered system had been due to be unveiled last week but any measures are now only expected from Monday. We could get an announcement before Mondy, but we don’t know that for sure yet.
According to reports, ‘tier one’ will be the current national restrictions including the rule of six and 10pm pub curfew.
Tier two would include a ban on households meeting, as already exists in local lockdowns. And tier three would go further than current local lockdowns by shutting hospitality.
Tier three could apply to major hotspots in the north of England where the virus is surging.
No10 insisted on Wednesday it would “not hesitate” to act. But plans to announce the simplified three-tier local lockdown system were delayed. Critics would say the government is “hesitating” right now.
Something is going to happen.
One Whitehall source admitted to the Mirror: “The data for the North in particular is increasingly concerning.” And a Downing Street source told The Sun: “The numbers are going the wrong way, and there will come a point very soon where we simply have to do more.”
No10 said hospital admissions in the North West are up 43.6% in a week, from 78 to 112 in the 7 days to October 1. In the North East they are up 45.9% from 72 to 105.
There are now 125.7 cases per 100,000 people across the UK, almost double the level a week earlier.
And 14,542 positive results were confirmed yesterday – up more than 2,000 on the day before.
Some 478 people were taken to hospital in England with Covid on Sunday, the most in four months, and up from 241 a week earlier.
Some SAGE experts are saying tighter national lockdown rules must come – and are even “inevitable”.
Scientists piled on the pressure to the PM to act now with “stringent” national rules.
Two SAGE experts said the options should include a “circuit break” lockdown – a short period of very tough restrictions to bring down the rate of new infections in the UK (more below).
SAGE member Professor John Edmunds slammed the existing “light touch” measures, telling BBC Newsnight: “Really that’s just delaying the inevitable.”
Fellow SAGE member Prof Callum Semple also said a national “circuit breaker” should be considered.
A third expert, Prof Stephen Reicher, warned the virus could reach the same levels it was at in March by the end of this month if it continues to double at the current rate.
Prof Reicher, who sits on SAGE’s behavioural science sub-group, told the BBC: “The good news is we have a window of opportunity to do something.
“If we squander that window of opportunity then we really are in trouble, then we really would be talking about going back to March in terms of full lockdown measures.”
Amid the chaos, No10 gave a clear sign the next lockdown measures will be regional, rather than national.
That is despite pressure from advisors to go further and roll out something across England.
Questioned on Boris Johnson’s view, his spokesman said: “He believes having national measures in place, and then having more stringent measures in areas where there is a higher prevalence of cases, remains the correct approach.”
The PM’s spokesman added: “We’re seeing coronavirus cases rising across the country.
“But they are rising faster in the North East and the North West and that is concerning.
“We will not hesitate to take further action in the areas where cases and hospitalisations are rising significantly, in order to protect communities, protect the NHS, and to save lives.”
People in huge tracts of the North East and North West – not to mention Birmingham and more – are already banned from meeting people they don’t live with indoors or in gardens.
But 19 out of 20 areas that have been under local lockdown for at least two months have seen infections soar despite the clampdown. Critics say the restrictions just aren’t working.
Whitehall has been finalising a “three tier” system to simplify local lockdowns.
At the moment, the rules are slightly different in each area and you need to look your town up on a government site.
Under the new system, an area would be badged “tier 1”, “tier 2” and so on – and instantly have a set of pre-set restrictions apply, which can be easily looked up and advertised.
Matt Hancock said on Monday he was “working through” the plans and would bring them to the House of Commons. Ministers suggested that would happen this week.
But a statement is still not confirmed and No10 said only it would be in “due course”.
Throughout all this, No10 has not ruled out new national rules – either extra things like the ‘rule of six’ of a full-blown lockdown like in March.
But the former is more likely than the latter as No10 sees a full-blown national lockdown as a last resort that would cripple the economy.
Two SAGE experts said the options should include a “circuit break” lockdown – a short period of very tough restrictions to bring down the rate of new infections in the UK.
This would be similar to the approach Scotland unveiled today.
Pubs, restaurants and licensed cafes in the central belt of Scotland will be closed completely for 16 days from Friday.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that across the rest of Scotland, they will only be able open 6am to 6pm indoors, and only serve alcohol outdoors.
Ms Sturgeon warned that without action now Scotland is likely to hit the peaks of the virus it saw in Spring by the end of October.
One thing critics want watered down is the 10pm pub curfew.
The PM faces mutinous Tory MPs whose anger over the curfew escalated after pub giant Greene King cut 800 jobs across the country blaming the restrictions.
Ministers believe it could be pushed back to 11pm like in Northern Ireland.
But asked if he is looking at changing the 10pm curfew to 11pm, the PM’s Press Secretary claimed: “No, the policy is as it stands”.
Another thing unlikely to close would be schools. No10 has repeatedly made clear sending millions of kids home like in March will be a last resort.
SAGE advisor Prof Calum Semple insisted there is “growing evidence that primary school children are not amplifying this disease.”
He added: “In secondary school children, again it’s less than adults, but it’s a gradient of effects such that sixth-formers are probably about the same risk as adults, but that data is slightly less stable.”
The government has not yet made a decision.
While a ‘Gold Command’ meeting is said to have signed off the pub shutdown last night, it has not yet been agreed by ministers.
There are splits in Cabinet between so-called “doves” who are weighted more to saving the NHS and “hawks” weighted more towards the economy.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak – who admitted the Cabinet is not “robots” and has differing opinions – was accused in one report of snarling up plans for a three-tier system.
The Telegraph claimed he wanted decisions under the system to go through him as well as Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
But Treasury sources have emphatically denied this and an ally of the Chancellor said it was “bollocks” and “total c**p”.
Infection rates have soared in recent days and the virus could be doubling once a week. Worst of all, infections in the elderly are rising.
Prof Stephen Reicher, who sits on SAGE’s behavioural science sub-group, warned the virus could reach the same levels it was at in March by the end of this month if it continues to double at the current rate.
Sir Keir said: “The PM really needs to understand that local communities are angry and frustrated.
“So will he level with the people of Bury, Burnley and Bolton and tell them: what does he think the central problem is that’s causing this?”
He added: “The Prime Minister can’t explain why an area goes into restrictions. He can’t explain what the different restrictions are, and he can’t explain how restrictions end. This is getting ridiculous.”
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