London, October 14
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday faces mounting pressure for a temporary complete national lockdown to act as a “circuit breaker” for the continued rise in coronavirus infections, even as the new three-tier system COVID-19 restrictions came into force across England.
While the new medium, high and very high alert levels system cleared the House of Commons vote on Tuesday to be enforced from Wednesday, more than 40 MPs from Johnson’s own Conservative Party rebelled with their vote against the 10pm curfews imposed on pubs, bars, restaurants and other hospitality settings.
On the other end of the spectrum, Opposition Labour Leader Keir Starmer demanded a two to three-week short “circuit breaker” lockdown instead as he accused the government of having “lost control” of the pandemic.
“The government’s plan simply isn’t working – another course is needed,” he said.
The Opposition demand for a “temporary set of clear and effective restrictions” for the country came as Northern Ireland chose the toughest route of shutdowns to try and control the spread of the virus, which include shutting down schools from Monday.
Under the localised rules for the region, hospitality businesses will be limited to takeaway and delivery services for four weeks from Friday after health officials warned infections would rise further if both schools and hospitality premises remained open.
“A lot of these decisions will have huge impacts – we’re very determined this will be a time-limited intervention,” said Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster.
Scotland, meanwhile, already has tougher measures in place and Wales has warned that its own “circuit breaker” lockdown preparations were underway.
“I’m not announcing it today but I do want people to know we are planning very seriously, so if we do need to do it we’ll be in a position to do it and in a position to do it quickly,” said Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford.
He has called on Johnson to convene an emergency Cabinet Office Briefing Room A (COBRA) meeting so that all four nations of the United Kingdom, able to set their own levels of lockdown, could discuss measures on a nationwide scale.
According to official documents released earlier this week, senior government advisers and scientists have also recommended a so-called circuit breaker as the R rate – or the rate at which the infection is being transmitted within the community – continues a worrying upwards trajectory, adding pressure on the state-funded National Health Service (NHS) hospitals and clinics.
Meanwhile, under the three-tier system of restrictions now in place across England, most of the country is in the lowest tier – medium – but millions of people in the north and the Midlands face extra curbs on households mixing. The Liverpool region is the only area to be under the toughest rules, with pubs and bars not serving meals closed.
Government health officials are holding talks to discuss the possibility of Greater Manchester, Lancashire and some other areas joining the top tier.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has also warned that the UK capital may have to be moved into the high category, from the current medium zone, due to a worrying spike in cases.
Areas on a medium alert are subject to the national restrictions currently in force, including the rule of six on indoor and outdoor gatherings and the 10pm closing time for pubs, bars and restaurants.
In addition to these restrictions, in areas on high alert – including north-east England, much of the North West and parts of the Midlands, along with West and South Yorkshire – different households are not allowed to mix indoors.
Areas on very high alert face extra curbs, with different households banned from mixing indoors or outdoors in hospitality venues or private gardens.
Pubs and bars will be closed unless they are serving substantial meals and there is also guidance against travelling in and out of the area.
It comes as a further 17,234 coronavirus cases were recorded in the UK this week, while 143 more people have died, taking the death toll from the virus closer to 43,000. — PTI