Almost two million people in the North East of England will be banned from socialising with other households, following a “concerning” rise in Covid-19, the Health Secretary has announced.
Matt Hancock told MPs in the Commons new measures were needed to tackle rising infection rates in Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Gateshead, Sunderland and County Durham.
From Friday, residents in these areas will be banned from socialising in homes or gardens with people outside their own households or support bubble, while food and drink venues will be restricted to table service only.
Leisure and entertainment venues must also close between 10pm and 5am every night.
Residents are also being advised not to socialise with other people outside of their own households in all public venues.
They should avoid non-essential travel on public transport and only take holidays with their own household or support bubble.
Anyone who attends amateur or semi-professional sporting events is also advised to stop going, the Department of Health and Social Care said.
The changes run alongside the England-wide six person limit on social gatherings.
Mr Hancock told MPs: “The battle against coronavirus is not over.
“And while we strain every sinew to spring free of its clutches, with winter on the horizon we must prepare, bolster our defences, and come together once again against this common foe.
“One of our vital lines of defence has been taking targeted action at a local level.
“We’ve seen local action work well in some parts of the country, and now we must take further action.”
It comes as:
– NHS Test and Trace figures show that 33.3% of people who were tested for Covid-19 in England in the week ending September 9 and had a so-called “in-person” test received their result within 24 hours. This is down from 66.5% in the previous week.
– A total of 18,371 new people tested positive for Covid-19 in England in the week to September 9, a rise of 75% in positive cases on the previous week.
– YouGov’s coronavirus tracker poll showed that the proportion of Britons who approve of the way the Government has responded to the pandemic has fallen to its lowest level yet. Some 30% think the Government has handled the issue of Covid-19 well, with 63% saying it has handled it badly.
– Dr Adam Kucharski, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who advises the Government, said the shortage of coronavirus testing capacity was affecting the ability of authorities to track the spread of the disease.
Mr Hancock told MPs that, across England, there was a “concerning rise in cases, with 3,991 new cases recorded yesterday” and “we’ve seen concerning rates of infection in parts of the North East”.
He added: “Sunderland, for example, now has an incidence rate of 103 positive cases per 100,000 population.
“And in South Tyneside, Gateshead and Newcastle, the figures are all above 70.
“As a result, local authorities wrote to me earlier this week, asking for tighter restrictions and we’ve taken swift action to put them in place.”
He said the Government knew “these decisions have a real impact on families, on businesses and on local communities, and I can tell everyone affected that we do not take these decisions lightly”.
He added: “We agree with the local councils that we must follow the data and act, and the data says that we must act now so we can control the virus and keep people safe.
“I know that the people of the North East will come together to defeat this virus as defeat it we must.”
Earlier, Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said people should stop their “endless carping” about a lack of Covid-19 tests.
In an exchange with MPs, he insisted people should instead “celebrate the phenomenal success of the British nation in getting up to a quarter of a million tests of a disease that nobody knew about until earlier in the year”.
Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said the Government must urgently fix test and trace to “avoid further restrictions”, adding: “It’s become not so much test and trace, more like trace a test.”
It is time for Dido Harding, the head of the Test and Trace programme, to be sacked and replaced with an expert.
This issue is too important to have someone in charge who just isn't up to the job.
And to be frank her appointment to this role stinks of political cronyism. pic.twitter.com/hk7Tt9jT00
— Richard Burgon MP (@RichardBurgon) September 17, 2020
Meanwhile, Labour MP Richard Burgon called for the head of NHS Test and Trace, Baroness Dido Harding, to be sacked.
He tweeted: “It is time for Dido Harding, the head of the Test and Trace programme, to be sacked and replaced with an expert.
“This issue is too important to have someone in charge who just isn’t up to the job.
“And to be frank her appointment to this role stinks of political cronyism.”
Dr Layla McCay, director at the NHS Confederation, said the latest data suggested the virus was not being controlled.
She said: “It appears we are now in a position where the spread of the virus is no longer being adequately controlled, with new cases nearly tripling compared with the end of August.
“This is especially alarming at a time when winter is almost upon us, and access to testing has become a major problem, including for frontline staff.”
It comes after Boris Johnson said that actions to stop a second surge of coronavirus must be “tough now” in order to “protect” Christmas.
He told The Sun: “Christmas we want to protect, and we want everyone to have a fantastic Christmas.
“But the only way to make sure the country is able to enjoy Christmas is to be tough now.
“So if we can grip it now, stop the surge, arrest the spike, stop the second hump of the dromedary, flatten the second hump.”
In south Wales, a local lockdown will come into force from 6pm on Thursday, meaning people must not enter or leave the Rhondda Cynon Taf area without a reasonable excuse.
Under new rules, licensed pubs, bars and restaurants in the area will have to close at 11pm – and meetings with other people indoors will not be allowed, including for extended households.