British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street in London, the UK, October 12 2020. Pictuer: DAN KITWOOD/GETTY IMAGES
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street in London, the UK, October 12 2020. Pictuer: DAN KITWOOD/GETTY IMAGES

London — UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced new restrictions to control the surge in coronavirus cases in the country, with bars and pubs closing in the worst-hit parts of Britain from Wednesday.

Johnson set out his plan for a three-tier system of Covid-19 alert levels, set at medium, high, and very high, to simplify the imposition of lockdown measures.

The toughest measures will be brought into force from Wednesday in the Liverpool city region of northwest UK, where the outbreak is spreading fastest, the prime minister told parliament on Monday.

“I take no pleasure whatsoever in placing restrictions on these businesses,” Johnson said. “Nor do I want to stop people enjoying themselves. But we must act to save lives.”

As well as pubs and bars being forced to close, households in the Liverpool region will be banned from mixing indoors and in private gardens. Johnson said he wants similar restrictions to apply in Greater Manchester, where cases are also soaring, but indicated local leaders have not yet agreed.

Talks will continue with local leaders in the coming days and weeks, the premier said. He did not mention new restrictions in London, but the capital’s Evening Standard newspaper said it could be moved to the “high”, or second, level in the coming weeks.

MPs will debate and vote on the new three-tier system on Tuesday, with the measures coming into force on Wednesday if they are approved.

Johnson immediately ran into criticism from his own side, including from Andy Street, the usually loyal mayor of the West Midlands, who said he is “very disappointed” his region has been placed in the “high” tier. He warned pubs and restaurants will be hit by a ban on households mixing.

“This is not something regional leaders supported, nor what I believed would be happening after extensive conversations over recent days,” he said in a statement.

Labour leader Keir Starmer said the system of local lockdowns has not worked so far during the pandemic and clashed with Johnson over the “serial failure” of the test and trace system.

“I’m now deeply sceptical the government has actually got a plan to get control of this virus,” he told parliament.

Johnson said he is determined to avoid a second national lockdown, which would hit the economy and threaten the country’s ability to fund medical care and other public services. But he said the rising infection rates mean action must be taken immediately.

Earlier on Monday senior medical officials painted a grim picture of the resurgent outbreak, pointing to rising cases, hospital admissions and deaths, especially in northern UK. Three so-called Nightingale overspill hospitals are being put on standby to cope with an expected surge in admissions.

Bloomberg

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