New rules on social gatherings will be introduced in parts of Northern England to stop the spread of COVID-19. The reintroduction of restrictions spans Greater Manchester and extends across Lancashire into parts of Yorkshire, an area of some 4.5 million people.
The tighter rules in gatherings will also apply in Leicester, which has been in a local lockdown for several weeks.
The Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said the move was response to an increasing trend in the number of cases per 100,000 people in the area, and data from Public Health England (PHE) and the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC), which suggests transmission among households is a key infection pathway in the area.
Matt Hancock said: “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. We’ve been working with local leaders across the region, and today I chaired a meeting of the Local Action Gold Committee. Based on the data, we decided that in Greater Manchester, parts of West Yorkshire and East Lancashire we need to take immediate action to keep people safe.
“The spread is largely due to households meeting and not abiding to social distancing. So from midnight tonight, people from different households will not be allowed to meet each other indoors in these areas. 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 areas that restrictions apply to are:
People in these areas will not be permitted to mix with other households (apart from those in their support bubbles) in private homes or gardens. Some exemptions will be put in place, including for the vulnerable.
The Government will introduce new regulations to make these changes legally enforceable. 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.
Meanwhile local leaders and government have agreed a number of changes to local restrictions in other areas.
There were complaints that news of the new lockdown rules broke via social media on the evening of Thursday 30 July. The leaders of Greater Manchester’s 10 local authorities and its mayor were critical of the government’s communication of the change via a tweet from the Health and Social Care Secretary.
However, local leaders accepted that there was a need to tackle a growing number of cases. While he criticised the way the decision was communicated, the Mayor of Grearter Manchester Andy Burnham said the government was right to act quickly and proportionately.
While social gathering restrictions remain in place in Leicester City, the area will benefit from the lifting of restrictions that took place on 4 July in England, and all local restrictions currently in place in the neighbouring borough of Oadby and Wigston will end. This means from Monday 3 August 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.
Restrictions on gathering in a range of indoor venues in Blackburn, announced last Friday, will remain in place.
However, restrictions introduced in Luton will be relaxed on Saturday 1 August. This means the Bedfordshire town will be brought in line with the rest of the country after what has been called "significant progress" has been made in controlling the virus.
Hancock said the news would come as a blow for those in the Muslim community preparing to celebrate Eid Al Adha this weekend, but he urged people follow the new rules and to protect the ones they love from catching coronavirus. Asked on BBC Radio 4's Today programme whether the measures were announced late on Thursday night to stop the celebrations from taking place, Mr Hancock said: "No, my heart goes out to the Muslim communities in these areas because I know how important the Eid celebrations are."
Mosques and other places of worship are opened for prayer and communal worship, but in a different socially distanced and COVID-Secure manner.
People living in Scotland are being advised to avoid travel to areas in northern England facing new lockdown restrictions after a spike in COVID-19 cases.
Travel between Scotland and Greater Manchester, East Lancashire and parts of West Yorkshire should only be undertaken if absolutely essential.
Anyone currently in the affected areas does not need to return to Scotland early but should remain vigilant in monitoring for symptoms and following the FACTS guidance both during their stay and when they return home.
The First Minister chaired a meeting of SGORR, the Scottish Government’s Resilience Committee, following an update from Prime Minister Boris Johnson to the four nations on the decision to introduce new measures to control the spread of the virus in the affected areas.
Sturgeon said: “We have always been clear that localised flare ups are likely as we continue to suppress the virus but by responding quickly and appropriately we can limit the effect these have on wider transmission.
“I strongly advise anyone planning to travel to areas affected in the north of England, or anyone planning to travel to Scotland from those same areas, to cancel their plans. Anyone whose travel is essential should follow public health advice at all times including the FACTS guidance and remain extra vigilant in monitoring for symptoms.”
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