Coronavirus: New restrictions in northern England ‘absolutely necessary’, Hancock says

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 has warned the virus was “bubbling up” in up to 30 areas across the UK, and a news conference is due to be held later on Friday to explain the new measures.

The order, affecting roughly four million people, covers:

  • All of Greater Manchester: Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford, and Wigan
  • East Lancashire: Pendle, Hyndburn, Burnley, Rossendale and Blackburn with Darwen
  • West Yorkshire: Bradford, Calderdale and Kirklees
  • The city of Leicester, which saw the UK’s first local lockdown

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 endpoint to the restrictions but they will be subject to a weekly review.

Some exemptions will be put in place, including for the vulnerable.

The government will sign new regulations to make these changes legally enforceable.

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 to “keep the country safe”.

Data shows that there has been less transmission in the area when people go to work or shops, he added.

“This is not the sort of decision anybody 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.”

There is disquiet too from backbench Conservatives over the handling of the announcement, Hazel Grove MP Will Wragg tweeting: “Greater Manchester’ is not one homogeneous area. We must always err on the side of caution with COVID-19, but to treat all 10 boroughs the same is not the right approach.”

Graham Brady, MP for Altrincham & Sale West, shared the post, adding: “I agree. Latest update for Trafford says ‘infections continue to be at a low level’.”

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.”

The Department of Health later confirmed the restrictions will be eased from Monday.

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”.

Shadow business minister and Manchester Central MP Lucy Powell was more critical, saying she was “blindsided” by the announcement.

She said she supported measures to keep the virus under control but felt there were “serious issues” about how they had been communicated.

Lisa Nandy, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary whose Wigan constituency is also affected by the restrictions, also told Sky News: “The government needs to be ready… They need to make sure that the guidance and clarity is there when they announce, not trickling out over Twitter and then hastily scrambling around to schedule a press conference.”

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