Millions of households in north England, including those in Manchester, Bradford and Leicester cities, face stricter lockdown rules than the rest of the UK from Friday amidst a feared spike and second wave of COVID-19 cases.
The rules include a ban on households from mingling together indoors and comes just ahead of the Eid festival, which usually involves different households getting together.
“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,” said UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
The minister said that the government has been working with local leaders across the region and chaired a meeting of the Local Action Gold Committee, where based on the data, it was decided that in Greater Manchester, parts of West Yorkshire and East Lancashire, immediate action was required.
Hancock said: “The spread is largely due to households meeting and not abiding to social distancing.
“We take this action with a heavy heart, but we can see increasing rates of coronavirus across Europe and are determined to do whatever is necessary to keep people safe”.
The Department of Health and Social Care admitted that for those preparing to celebrate Eid Al Adha over the weekend with friends and family, these restrictions will “come as a blow” but urged people to follow the new rules to protect against the deadly coronavirus.
“Mosques and other places of worship have reopened for prayer and communal worship, but in a different socially distanced and COVID-19 secure way. This means that while mosques can remain open, many will not able to welcome as many worshippers as before,” the department said.
The Opposition Labour Party criticised the government for the lack of clarity over the measures and for announcing them “late at night” on Thursday.
“No one would argue with putting in place local action to reduce the transmission of coronavirus. 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,” said Labour Leader Keir Starmer.
Meanwhile, stricter localised restrictions currently in place in Blackburn, announced last Friday, which saw indoor swimming pools, indoor fitness and dance studios, indoor gyms and sports facilities remaining closed, will continue.
From Saturday, these leisure facilities will open in Luton, bringing it in line with the rest of the UK, which has been coming out of lockdown in phases over the course of this month.
The latest action in northern England is said to be in response to an increasing trend in the number of cases per 100,000 people in the area.
It means nearly 4 million in these areas will not be permitted to mix with other households, apart from those in so-called support bubbles of close friends and relatives, in private homes or gardens.
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.
While social gathering restrictions remain in place in the city of Leicester — the first region to face a localised lockdown in the UK — the area will benefit from the lifting of restrictions that took place on July 4 across England, and all local restrictions currently in place in the neighbouring borough of Oadby and Wigston will end.
It means from Monday, restaurants, cafes, bars and hairdressers in Leicester city can get back to business but leisure centres, gyms and pools will remain closed.
In addition, cinemas and museums will open and religious ceremonies will be able to take place.
Anyone with any coronavirus symptoms, including a fever and new continuous cough, is being asked to isolate immediately and get a free coronavirus test.
The Department of Health said that everyone must continue to socially distance and regularly wash their hands to help bring the virus down further, so that all areas of Leicester can return to normal as soon as possible.
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