Additional lockdown restrictions are to be imposed over large swathes of northern England after a surge of coronavirus cases caused largely by people “not abiding to social distancing”, Matt Hancock has said.
The health secretary announced on Thursday evening that from midnight people from different households in Greater Manchester, parts of East Lancashire, West Yorkshire and Leicester would not be able to meet each other indoors.
It is the first time further lockdown measures have been applied to such a large geographic area, covering millions of homes, and comes on the eve of Eid al-Adha celebrations which would have been held in many of the cities and towns affected.
However, there was immediately confusion about how widely the restrictions applied. Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow health secretary and the MP for Leicester, said he had not seen the guidance in full but that he understood that “pubs, restaurants and hairdressers will reopen but not gyms, leisure centres, swimming pools”.
He added: “But no household mixing other than bubbles. People cannot stay overnight at another house or meet in private gardens.”
Lisa Nandy, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary and the MP for Wigan, said she had been told that the guidance applied to homes and gardens but that people would still be allowed to visit public spaces “where social distancing measures are in place”. She said: “People will have a lot of questions and we are pressing for more information quickly. It is really hard but please follow advice and stay safe.”
In his statement, Hancock said he had ordered the lockdown due to an “increasing rate of transmission in parts of northern England” that was “largely due to households meeting and not abiding to social distancing”.
He said that from midnight “people from different households will not be allowed to meet each other indoors” in Greater Manchester, Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Hyndburn, Pendle, Rossendale, Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees and the city of Leicester.
He added: “We take this action with a heavy heart, but we can see increasing rates of Covid across Europe and are determined to do whatever is necessary to keep people safe.”
The move came on the day that Hancock warned of a second wave of coronavirus “rolling across Europe” and as health officials have been anxiously looking at rising rates across large parts of northern England.
The announcement was welcomed by Andy Burnham, the Greater Manchester mayor, who said there had been a “marked change” in the situation in the region of nearly 3 million people in recent days.
Burnham said cases had risen in nine out of 10 boroughs in Greater Manchester this week, having been falling last week. In Rochdale, the one borough where cases had fallen, the rates were still too high, he said.
The former Labour MP said the new rules would be reviewed weekly, “meaning the more we stick to them, the quicker they will be removed”. He added: “This is a place which prides itself on looking out for each other. We now need to be true to that by not acting selfishly and keeping the health of others in mind at all times.”
Several of the areas affected by the new rules – Leicester, Blackburn with Darwen, Oldham and part of Wakefield – had already imposed localised restrictions in recent weeks in an attempt to curb the rising infection rates.
In many of the areas, the recent jump in cases had been attributed to an increase in transmission in multi-generation households, generally in more deprived parts of the towns and cities, and with many working in at-risk occupations such as warehouse workers, taxi drivers, and health and care staff.
Muslims in some northern towns, such as Blackburn with Darwen and Oldham, had been told the celebrate Eid al-Adha at home and not to allow visitors as the majority of the recent cases had been in the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities and were predominantly among younger people, aged 20 to 40.
However, the imposition of blanket restrictions covering an area of at least 5 million people suggests transmission has spread much more widely.
The government had been expected within days to announce whether the UK’s first full local lockdown, in Leicester, would remain in force in the Midlands city. Downing Street has been accused of sowing confusion and anxiety in Leicester after imposing the first local lockdown to combat a surge in Covid-19 cases in the city, amid growing concern about how the measures will work.
News – Lockdown tightened in parts of northern England with ban on indoor meetings