The Government has rolled out new restrictions to stop the spread of coronavirus across northern England due to an increased rate of transmission in these areas.
The measures, announced on Thursday evening via Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s Twitter feed and later posted online, have been put in place across Greater Manchester and parts of east Lancashire and West Yorkshire.
According to the most recent figures from Public Health England (PHE), the rate of infection is increasing across 13 of the 19 local authorities in the areas where the rules are being imposed.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has meanwhile warned the UK must be “vigilant” over the threat of a second wave of Covid-19 amid increased caseloads in other parts of Europe.
So, here’s what you need to know about the move:
What has the Government announced?
The Government has banned people from different households in Greater Manchester, parts of east Lancashire and West Yorkshire from meeting each other indoors or private gardens.
Households will be able to go to bars, pubs and other hospitality venues but two households should not go together. Current rules in place for the rest of England allow two households – up to a maximum of 30 people – to meet indoors.
The moves, which came into effect from midnight on Thursday, are expected to impact more than four million people.
Mr Hancock said the measures were necessary as there had been an increasing rate of transmission in parts of Northern England.
In a series of Tweets, the health secretary said that this was due to “households gathering and not abiding by the social distancing rules” and the new rules were being put in place in order to “keep the country safe”.
“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 neccessary to keep people safe,” Mr Hancock added.
Which areas are affected?
The new restrictions apply to the whole of Greater Manchester as well as parts of east Lancashire including Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Hyndburn, Pendle and Rossendale.
The measures are also being rolled out in Bradford, Calderdale and Kirklees in West Yorkshire.
The same rules will also apply to Leicester, which saw the first so-called “local lockdown” imposed on June 29 following a spike in Covid-19 cases there.
From Monday restaurants, cafes, bars and hairdressers in the East Midlands city can open again in line with the easing of restrictions across the rest of the country on July 4.
Leisure centres, gyms and pools will remain closed but cinemas and museums will open and religious ceremonies will be able to take place, it added.
The so-called “local lockdown” will end in the borough of Oadby and Wigston, on the city’s outskirts.
Meanwhile, restrictions currently in place in Blackburn which saw indoor swimming pools, indoor fitness and dance studios, indoor gyms and sports facilities remain closed in July despite such facilities being permitted to reopen elsewhere in England will also continue.
How will the restrictions be enforced?
The Government said it will sign new regulations to make the changes “legally enforceable” and will give local authorities and police forces the powers to enforce these restrictions.
Some exemptions will be put in place, including for people deemed to be vulnerable.
How fast is the virus spreading?
The rate of infection is increasing across 13 of the 19 local authorities in the areas where the new measures are being imposed, according to the most recent figures from PHE.
In Blackburn with Darwen, the rate has risen from 83.3 cases per 100,000 people in the seven days to July 20 to 89.3 in the seven days to July 27. A total of 133 new cases have been recorded locally.
Leicester has the second highest seven-day rate despite it falling from 67.8 per 100,000 people to 60.2 over the same period, with 214 new cases there.
Over the same period, the rate has also increased in Manchester, Burnley, Pendle, Bradford, Calderdale, Oldham, Bury, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford and Wigan, but fell in Hyndburn, Rossendale, Kirklees, Bolton and Rochdale.
Rochdale, Oldham, Blackburn and Pendle have meanwhile been placed on a PHE watchlist as an “area of concern” after a spike in local rates of infection.
What has the reaction to the move been?
Opposition Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer suggested the Government’s announcement of the new lockdown measures would have been better suited to a press conference.
“No one would argue with putting in place local action to reduce the transmission of coronavirus,” he said on Twitter.
“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.”
Sir Keir also accused the Government of having “failed to deliver a functioning track and trace system that would spot local flare ups like these”.
“The people of Greater Manchester now need urgent clarity and explanation from the government – and there must be proper support for those businesses and people affected by any lockdown,” he said.
Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham meanwhile said he agreed with the Government’s decision as there had been a “marked change in the picture” with regard to the spread of Covid-19 in the area.
But he also suggested that ministers should have the detail of any changes in lockdown measures at the same time the changes are announced.
“They have a habit of saying something and then it being a few hours until the detail emerges,” Mr Burnham told Sky News.
“And that certainly was the case last night, and later on last night a lot of people I think felt very uncertain about what exactly was being announced.
“So what I would say to them (ministers) is I understand the need to make announcements, I understand the need for decisive action, but when ministers go in front of the cameras, make sure you’ve got the detail ready to go exactly at the same time.”
First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon also backed the Government’s decision, tweeting: “The UK Government is right to act quickly if they think the situation warrants it.
“But this is a sharp reminder that the threat of this virus is still very real. Please abide by all #FACTS advice and stay safe.”
Mr Hancock meanwhile insisted that the new rules brought into force are “crystal clear” and said the Government will not “shy away” from taking further action to tackle coronavirus across England if necessary.
“We’ve demonstrated that we’re prepared to take the action that’s necessary to keep people safe,” he told Sky News.
“That was true in Leicester when we took action there and we’re taking much more localised action in hundreds of different locations right across the country.”
Commenting specifically on the new measures, he added: “We have brought them in specifically to target the problems we have been able to see through the data.
“The evidence shows that the biggest risk in terms of the spread of this virus across this area is household transmission when people are going to see each other in homes when they are not in a household together.
“We are not seeing as much transmission in their place of work or retail or other areas.
“This is not the sort of decision anyone wants to take, but it’s important to move quickly.”