A NARROW SAFE PATH
» Weary Brits hit by tough new 3-tier curbs » But PM warned it may not stop lockdown 2
AFTER months of sacrifices, job losses and promises of a return to normal by Christmas, a Covid-weary nation was last night facing yet more restrictions.
Boris Johnson imposed a three-tier system of curbs, with pubs closing and social mixing banned in the worst-hit areas. But the PM was warned it may not be enough to stop a second national lockdown.
He was accused by Labour leader Keir Starmer of losing control of the Covid battle after the test and trace fiasco and weeks of confusion over what people are allowed to do. The plans leave Britons gearing up for a hard winter, cut off from families and with jobs hanging by a thread.
Mr Johnson told the Commons: “This is the narrow path we have to tread between the social and economic trauma of a full lockdown and the massive human and indeed economic cost of an uncontained epidemic.” But Mr Starmer told him: “I am now deeply sceptical that the Government has actually got a plan to get control of this virus, to protect jobs or retain public trust. “We’ve tried to give the Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt, but it increasingly feels like he is several steps behind the curve and running to catch up with a virus that he has lost control of long ago.”
Mr Johnson imposed Tier 3 restrictions on Merseyside, the only region so far to be placed under them because of “very high” infection rates.
Aides and ministers are in talks with local authority leaders in parts of the North West, North East, Humber and Yorkshire about restrictions.
It came as a YouGov poll found 40% of people believe the curbs do not go far enough. And England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty warned the system may not work.
He said: “I am not confident and nor is anybody that the Tier 3 proposals for the highest rates, if we did the absolute base case and nothing more, would be enough to get on top of it.” Colleague Professor Jonathan Van Tam admitted rates were worse in the North because the virus had “never dropped” as much as in the South.
If the new system fails to halt soaring infection rates, a two-week “circuit break” over school half-term remains on the table. But SAGE papers released last night showed that government scientists recommended
such restrictions be “considered for immediate introduction” three weeks ago. They also suggested banning g all contact with other households, ouseholds, closing bars, restaurants ants and gyms and moving all university teaching online unless essential.
Leaders across the North are holding out against the he dracodraconian rules. But Mr Starmer Johnson warned that unless they agreed to step up restrictions the Government could enforce them. He said: “If we can’t get agreement ment then clearly c it is our duty to protect the public and protect public pub health.” Liverpo Liverpool Mayor Joe Ander Anderson said: “Let’s be c clear that having ignored my pleas for over a month, the Government now blame us, and impose ‘ lockdown by diktat’ without a full financial package and support for businesses.”
A data briefing at No10 warned there are now more patients in hospital with coronavirus than when the March lockdown was ordered. NHS England Medical Director Prof Stephen Powis said: “If we do not take measures the death toll will be too great to bear.” There were 13,972 new Covid cases yesterday and 50 further deaths.
Mr Johnson said the figures were like “dashboard warnings in a passenger jet” and added: “We must act now.” Steve Rotheram, metro mayor for the Liverpool city region, agreed to tougher measures amid a spike in hospital admissions.
Pubs, gyms, leisure centres and casinos will shut and non-essential travel is advised against for up to six months. But restaurants and pubs can stay open if they serve “substantial” meals – not just bar snacks.
A dozen areas are classed as having “high high” Covid case rates and will fall under the Tier 2 alert level. All other parts of England are classified as “medium” under Tier 1 of the Covid alert system. Mr Johnson said areas under Tier 3 would get around £1billion of new financial support.
The PM last night still insisted life could get back to normal by Christmas – if we all obey the new rules and follow “basic” hygiene advice.