A rise in COVID-19 cases has prompted the UK government to postpone the next planned easing of coronavirus restrictions in England.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said a raft of measures due to be eased nationally from tomorrow will remain in place until at least the August 15.
Casinos, bowling alleys, and skating rinks will remain shut, while indoor performances, pilots of larger crowds at sporting events and weddings of up to 30 people still won’t be allowed.
Johnson also announced an extension of the requirement to wear a face covering in museums, galleries, cinemas and places of worship, which will be enforceable in law from August 8.
Plans to give employers more control over bringing workers back into “COVID-secure” workplaces will go ahead as planned from August 1.
“We don’t yet have a vaccine, so the only utensil we have for controlling the spread of this new virus is human behaviour,” he added, urging people to comply with the rules and advice to avoid further lockdown measures going forward.
Local restrictions in parts of northern England
At midnight on Thursday new restrictions on areas of the north of England were imposed due to rising coronavirus cases, giving people just two hours' notice.
Millions of people living in Greater Manchester, and parts of Lancashire and West Yorkshire, have been told not to meet up with people they do not live with unless they are already part of a support bubble.
The new measures affect:
- All of Greater Manchester, including Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford, and Wigan;
- East Lancashire, including Pendle, Hyndburn, Burnley, Rossendale and Blackburn with Darwen;
- West Yorkshire, including Bradford, Calderdale and Kirklees;
- Leicester — a city in central England that was the first in th UK to be put on a local lockdown
The restrictions also apply to meeting people that do not live in the same household in indoor public spaces such as pubs, restaurants, cafes, shops, places of worship and leisure venues, although most of these are able to remain open.
However, in Blackburn and Bradford, gym and sports facilities have been told to stay closed.
People will be able to meet those they do not live with in parks and other open spaces.
The government said police will be able to hand out fines starting at £100 (€110) for those who are caught breaking the rules.
The new measures have caused some confusion, having been announced just hours before a midnight implementation.
The leader of the opposition Labour party Keir Starmer criticised the government for the timing, saying “announcing measures affecting potentially millions of people late at night on Twitter is a new low for the government’s communications during this crisis”.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said the measures were being imposed “with a heavy heart”.
“We're constantly looking at the latest data on the spread of coronavirus, and unfortunately we've seen an increasing rate of transmission in parts of Northern England.
“The spread is largely due to households meeting and not abiding by social distancing. So from midnight tonight, people from different households will not be allowed to meet each other indoors in these areas,” he said.
Explaining the measures on BBC Breakfast, Hancock said the UK's contact tracing system had shown that people who caught the virus were most often giving the names of friends or family, which he said showed that people were catching the virus from people they knew.
He did not explain how people would identify those they had been in contact with who they didn’t know, such as other customers at shops, pubs or restaurants.
In the same interview, Hancock confirmed households within the restricted areas could visit households outside the new zones if they followed social distancing rules.
However, the official government guidance states: “If you live in the affected areas, you should not visit someone’s home or garden regardless of whether this is in or outside of the restricted area.”
The UK has the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths in Europe, with more than 46,000 — currently the third-highest death toll worldwide, based on a Johns Hopkins University tally.