Home / News / World /  Millions face new UK curbs with coronavirus at ‘tipping point’

Millions of Britons could be on the verge of new coronavirus restrictions, with the UK’s deputy chief medical officer warning the nation has reached a “tipping point" similar to the situation before the countrywide lockdown began in March.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will make a statement to lawmakers on Monday amid expectations that a three-tier local lockdown system will be introduced across England. The premier is due to hold a call with his cabinet later Sunday to discuss the restrictions, ITV reported.

Parts of northern England are expected to face the harshest curbs, putting Johnson at odds with leaders and lawmakers in those areas. Measures could include the closures of some hospitality venues, and according to the Sun newspaper, a request not to travel outside local areas.

“We are at a tipping point similar to where we were in March; but we can prevent history repeating itself if we all act," the UK’s deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van-Tam, wrote in an op-ed on Sunday. “This time it is different as we are now are going into the colder, darker winter months."

With huge variations in infection rates across the country, a localized approach remains the best way forward, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said on Sky News on Sunday, adding that no one wants to see blanket measures across the UK. He declined to comment on the specifics of Monday’s announcement.

“Nobody’s punishing the north," Jenrick said in a later interview with Times Radio. “We’re taking action in those places where it’s required on the basis of the advice of our experts through the Joint Biosecurity Centre. That’s the way we’ll continue to approach this. If there is an issue in London that requires further measures then we’ll take action."

Government criticized

Still, the government’s approach is coming under criticism from lawmakers in the north of England, with Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham bemoaning a lack of communication from officials.

“To be called to a meeting with 10 Downing Street on a Friday evening, to be effectively presented with proposals that needed to be agreed over the weekend, I mean that isn’t adequate or acceptable consultation to me," he said on Times Radio on Sunday. “That is being railroaded into a position. It’s all come too late."

The Sunday Times reported UK mayors will be given more control over the coronavirus test-and-trace system as the government tries to secure their support. Under plans being discussed between Downing Street and mayors, ministers will empower town hall leaders to deploy new local volunteers to go from door to door and ask people to self-isolate, according to the newspaper.

When questioned on the plans Sunday, Jenrick didn’t deny the report, saying “local councils and local communities are very good at contact tracing."

Economic support

In anticipation of fresh curbs, the government on Friday laid out more economic support for workers in areas hit by local lockdowns, with Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak pledging to pay two-thirds of the wages of employees in companies forced to close.

That same day, two major studies showed the virus has surged in the U.K., with the Office for National Statistics saying the infection rate almost doubled in the week through Oct. 1, and Imperial College London estimating there were around 45,000 new infections every day in the period between Sept. 18 and Oct. 5. The Imperial College report, based on tests of 175,000 volunteers, identified an eightfold increase in infections in people over the age of 65 compared with the previous period from Aug. 20 to Sept. 8.

A poll from Ipsos MORI on Sunday showed the public largely supports restrictions, with seven in 10 Britons backing local lockdowns in areas where cases of coronavirus are on the rise.

The poll, based on interviews with close to 1,900 people on Oct. 9-10, showed 63% favor limiting social gatherings to no more than six people from two households. Six in 10 people backed banning all travel in and out of the U.K.

The British public are more divided on closing all restaurants, pubs and bars, with 43% in support and 37% against. It was the same when survey respondents were asked about another complete nationwide lockdown, with 40% against and 43% for the measure.

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