The Guardian, UK: No 10 has warned that the UK is at a “critical juncture” for controlling the spread of Covid as Boris Johnson prepares to lay out new rules that will see pubs and bars in areas with the highest infection rate forced to close.
The prime minister is expected to address the nation on Monday after a frantic weekend of discussion with local leaders from across the country.
Johnson will tell the House of Commons that areas in England will be graded in three tiers as medium, high and very high risk as the government struggles to suppress the virus in the north-west England and parts of the Midlands and north-east England and central Scotland.
In a move that is meant to underline the gravity of the situation that the UK faces, Johnson will on Monday evening front a televised Downing Street press conference with the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, and England’s chief medical officer, Prof Chris Whitty. A public data briefing will also be held by health officials including the country’s deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van Tam, who on Sunday said the UK is at a ‘tipping point”.
Council leaders in Liverpool are preparing to clash with the government following reports that all restaurants except for takeaways will also close in the city. Sources said this contradicted assurances to local leaders that restaurants would be allowed to remain open until 10pm.
Downing Street’s chief strategic adviser, Sir Edward Lister, headed several hours of talks with council leaders over the weekend and into Sunday evening. During the weekend, senior No 10 advisers and the housing, communities and local government secretary, Robert Jenrick, also held discussions with local authority leaders and mayors from the highest areas of concern.
Following criticism of the government for ignoring regional mayors and council leaders, a No 10 statement praised local politicians and reiterated the importance of their roles in helping to shape the package of measures.
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “Our primary focus has always been to protect lives and livelihoods while controlling the spread of the virus and these measures will help achieve that aim. We must do everything we can to protect the NHS and make sure it can continue to deliver the essential services that so many people rely on.
“This is a critical juncture and it is absolutely vital that everyone follows the clear guidance we have set out to help contain the virus.”
Before making a statement to MPs on Monday, Johnson will chair a meeting of the government’s Cobra committee to determine the final interventions to announce in parliament.
Areas with relatively low infection levels will be placed in what is being described as tier 1. Only national restrictions such as the rule of six, the 10pm curfew on restaurants and pubs and existing rules on masks and social distancing will apply.
The next tier is likely to include bans on home visits and indoor socialising with other households in bars or restaurants.
In areas under the toughest tier 3 restrictions – including Merseyside, Manchester and Newcastle – bars and pubs are expected to be forced to close.