U.K. Keeps Threat of Firmer London Covid Rules as Cases Soar
(Bloomberg) -- Boris Johnson’s government raised the prospect of tougher new coronavirus rules in London and large areas of the U.K. to try to get the resurgent pandemic under control.
Asked about reports the government is planning a “total social lockdown” in the coming weeks across much of northern England and potentially the capital, health minister Helen Whately told BBC radio she “wouldn’t rule it out.”
“We do want to get the Covid rate under control,” Whately said on Monday.
The Times reported new restrictions under consideration include a ban on different households mixing and the closing of pubs, bars and restaurants. The new rules may be imposed as soon as this week in Merseyside, northeast England and Lancashire, with London also in the mix, according to the newspaper. Schools would stay open, along with shops, factories and offices at which staff couldn’t work from home.
The restrictions would come on top of a significant tightening of rules that took effect on Monday, including making it a legal requirement for people to self-isolate if they test positive for Covid-19 or if told to do so by health officials. Law-breakers face fines of as much as 10,000 pounds ($12,800).
“It may be necessary to take further steps to seek to protect the NHS and seek to save lives,” Johnson’s spokesman, James Slack, told reporters when asked if any further local restrictions are planned. “Infection rates are rising across the country and in all age groups.”
Slack also said it’s too early to say if the government’s decision earlier this month to restrict social gatherings to groups of no more than six nationwide is having an effect. The intention of any new rules, he said, would be to “bring the virus under control.”
But the ever-changing patchwork of regulations imposed on different parts of the country is triggering a revolt from some members of Johnson’s Conservative Party, who want to amend emergency legislation to curb the government’s powers to act without the consent of Parliament.
The political pressure is building just as the pandemic reverts to exponential growth this month for the first time since March. On Sunday, 5,693 new cases and 17 deaths were reported across the U.K. The Office for National Statistics said Monday the rate of infections has been growing primarily in the least deprived areas in each region of England.
In London, Mayor Sadiq Khan has called for a ban on household mixing to curb the spread of infections. The capital was added to the nationwide watch list last week, though there were no new restrictions imposed for now.
Meanwhile Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham warned a 10 p.m. curfew on pubs imposed by the government is at risk of backfiring because it means young people are heading straight to supermarkets for alcohol and gathering to drink in the streets.
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