Separate households are banned from meeting indoors from today in Greater Manchester, East Lancashire and parts of West Yorkshire after a rise in coronavirus cases.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News the new restrictions were “absolutely necessary”, adding: “When you face a pandemic like this, it is important to move quickly if that’s what needed.”
The news comes after the UK saw its highest daily total of COVID-19 cases for more than a month.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned the virus was “bubbling up” in up to 30 areas across the UK.
It means people in these areas will not be permitted to mix with other households (apart from those in their support bubbles) in private homes or gardens.
It is understood there is currently no end point to the restrictions but they will be subject to a weekly review.
The regulations will give local authorities and police forces the powers to enforce these restrictions and more details on these will be set out when the regulations are published.
Households may go to hospitality, for instance bars and pubs, but new guidance will make clear that two households should not go to hospitality together.
Mr Hancock said “households gathering and not abiding by the social distancing rules” was a reason for the decision, which had been taken in order to “keep the country safe”.
Data shows that there has been less transmission in the area when people go to work or to shops, he added.
“This is not the sort of decision anynbody would want to take but as we’ve seen before it is important to move quickly,” the health secretary said.
He also said his “heart goes out” to the Muslim community ahead of Eid celebrations, which will likely be heavily impacted by the new restrictions.
Mr Hancock added: “We’re constantly vigilant and we’ve been looking at the data, and unfortunately we’ve seen across parts of northern England an increase in the number of cases of coronavirus.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer criticised the way the announcement was made, branding it a “new low for the government’s communications”.
“No one would argue with putting in place local action to reduce the transmission of coronavirus,” he tweeted.
“But announcing measures affecting potentially millions of people late at night on Twitter is a new low for the government’s communications during this crisis.
“When the government ended the daily press conferences, they said they would hold them for “significant announcements”, including local lockdowns. It’s hard to imagine what could be more significant than this.
“For all the bluster, government has failed to deliver a functioning track and trace system that would spot local flare ups like these.”
Out of the 19 local authority areas affected, the rate of COVID-19 in the seven days to 27 July has gone up in 13 of them, with 1,536 cases recorded in the space of a week.
Leicester’s local lockdown was imposed at the end of June, but Labour’s MPs for the area – Liz Kendall, Jonathan Ashworth and Claudia Webbe – said on Twitter that some restrictions there will now be lifted.
“The great news is our pubs, cafes, bars & restaurants can re-open and people can go on holiday with their own household,” Ms Kendall tweeted.
“But leisure centres, gyms & pools still closed, and no meeting up with other households indoors.”
Ms Webbe said Eid celebrations can take place at places of worship – provided social distancing is maintained – but not in private homes.
It has also been announced that from Saturday Luton will be brought in line with the rest of the country after “significant progress”.
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham told Sky News the “picture changed” in Greater Manchester over the last week and said the government was “right to take quick action”.
He said the rise in cases “doesn’t just relate to multi-generational households” but also a spike in cases amongst younger people.
Mr Burnham added he would “look to people themselves first to do the right thing and respect these requirements”.
© 2020 Sky UK
News – Coronavirus: New restrictions in northern England ‘absolutely necessary’, Hancock says