The British Prime Minister has set out a three-tier system of lockdown measures for England to prevent an “intolerable” COVID-19 death toll.
But Boris Johnson’s new ‘traffic light’ system of curbs has been slammed by local ministers for not going hard enough on coronavirus hotspots.
He has proposed for regions to be placed under a “medium”, “high” or “very high” alert depending on their local infection rates.
It is seen as an attempt to standardise a patchwork of often complicated and confusing restrictions imposed across England.
If MPs vote to approve the measures on Tuesday, pubs and bars that don’t serve “substantial meals” will have to close in areas under a “very high” alert level.
So far, the Liverpool city region is the only part of the country to be placed into a “very high” COVID-alert category.
The UK has already imposed partial lockdown restrictions on Liverpool which meant different households could only meet in outdoor public spaces – but there was no travel ban – and hospitality for food and drink is restricted to table service.
Mr Johnson said gyms, leisure centres, casinos, betting shops and adult gaming centres there will also close.
The UK government website explains that people living in a “high” risk category area such as Manchester or Leeds must not meet with anybody outside their household or support bubble.
They also won’t be allowed to meet in a group of more than six outside and have been advised to walk or cycle where possible.
The only real restriction for those in a “medium” COVID-alert category is that they don’t meet in groups larger than six, indoors or outdoors.
Schools, universities and places of worship can remain open, weddings and funerals can go ahead, all businesses and venues can continue to operate – but are required to close between 10pm to 5am – and indoor sport and exercise classes can take place.
Welsh ministers have urged Mr Johnson to impose strict travel bans for areas with high rates of coronavirus infections.
The BBC quoted the Welsh Government as saying First Minister Mark Drakeford had “expressed deep disappointment at the inadequate proposals for travel restrictions in high infection areas in England”.
It said he told Mr Johnson it would be met with “great dismay in many parts of Wales where infection rates are lower”.
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson told parliament “we must act to save lives”.
He said he did not want another UK-wide lockdown and that he understood the frustrations of those chafing at the “repressions of liberty”.
“If we let the virus rip, then the bleak mathematics dictate that we would suffer not only an intolerable death toll from COVID, but we would put such a huge strain on our NHS (National Health Service) with an uncontrolled second spike that our doctors and nurses would simply be unable to devote themselves to other treatments.”
Health officials say the latest data showed infections were rising across the north of England and in some more southerly areas too, while the virus was creeping up age bands towards the elderly from those aged 16-29 years.
Manchester intensive care consultant Jane Eddleston said 30 per cent of critical care beds were taken up with COVID-19 patients and this was starting to affect healthcare for others.
“This is not how we want to live our lives but this is the narrow path we have to tread between the social and economic trauma of a full lockdown and massive human and indeed economic cost of an uncontained epidemic,” Johnson said.
“The weeks and months ahead will continue to be difficult and will test the mettle of this country,” he said.
But as millions of people across the United Kingdom grapple with restrictions, the hospitality sector says it is being brought to its knees by the government.
Karen Strickland, landlady of The Grapes pub in Liverpool, said their income was already down by 70 per cent with the current enforced countrywide closing time of 10pm, and the government’s support scheme help was not enough.
“It’s absolutely horrendous,” she said, adding it made no sense to single out pubs.
Under the new restrictions, however, pubs that serve a main lunchtime or evening meal will be allowed to stay open, although they will only be able to serve alcohol as part of such a meal.