By GUY DAVIES, ABC News
(LONDON) — U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a new three-tier coronavirus program that outlines stringent local restrictions in England as the country attempts to curb an increase in cases and avoid another national lockdown.
Different areas in the country will now be evaluated as on “medium,” “high” or “very high” alert levels, with restrictions imposed depending on the severity of the outbreak. “Medium” areas will face the current national rules in place, which include a ban on social gatherings over six people and a 10 p.m. curfew for bars and pubs, while “very high” alert (tier three) areas will face bars, restaurants and gyms being shuttered and bans on household mixing. However, retail stores, schools and universities will remain open.
“We must act to save lives, and the evidence shows that in changing our behavior, in restricting transmission between us, our actions are saving lives,” Johnson said in the House of Commons on Monday. “But we need to go further.”
In recent months, the government has targeted COVID hotspots with local restrictions, but this new system is designed to “simplify and standardize” the rules, Johnson said. The measures will come into force on Wednesday and will be the subject of regular review, he said.
The harshest measures in the U.K. have been imposed in the Liverpool City Region, which is now in the “very high” alert level, meaning bars, pubs and gyms have been ordered to shutter. COVID-19 cases are rising at the highest rates in northern England, according to Public Health England data.
Many northern areas already under restrictions will be placed into the “high” level. Comparatively, the rate of infection in London is lower than in the north, and the capital will remain in the “medium” level.
In the U.K., England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have the powers to set their own lockdown measures. Scotland will develop its own equivalent framework to the tier system in England, but will seek to align as “closely as possible” with the other nations of the U.K., Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said at her daily coronavirus briefing.
Bars, restaurants and pubs all opened in July when the U.K. had seemingly controlled the rate of infection after months of lockdown, but like the rest of Europe, the U.K. has faced weeks of escalating cases. Though the number of daily deaths has not matched the levels in the early stages of the pandemic, the U.K. and France this month have reported record single daily rises in cases last week, while Germany and Italy reported their highest daily case rises since April.
“If we do not take measures to contain the spread of the virus, the death toll will be too great to bear,” Professor Stephen Powis, the medical director of National Health Service (NHS) England said at an earlier press conference. “We now have more patients in hospital[s] with COVID-19 than we did before the government announced restrictions on March 23 in the spring.”
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, announced a new package to help support businesses that includes paying two-thirds of wages for staff in businesses that are told to shutter, but some lawmakers and business owners have said the measures do not go far enough.
Andy Burnham, the mayor of Manchester, said more was needed to avoid a “levelling down” of northern areas facing the toughest restrictions.
Reacting to the news that Manchester had avoided the toughest tier three restriction, Burnham tweeted: “This is the right decision & we’re glad the Government has listened. But any restrictions will lead to loss of trade for businesses & challenges for councils. The PM must give all areas under restrictions full financial support. Anything less will see them levelled down.”
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