MINISTERS are considering imposing fresh regional restrictions amid a spike in cases in northern England, a Cabinet member has said as he declined to rule out shutting pubs and restaurants.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said on Thursday ministers are “currently considering what steps we should take” as he warned of a “fast and serious situation” in the North.
The Government in Westminster is under increasing pressure to act after Scotland announced fresh restrictions on the hospitality sector.
Dr Adam Kucharski, a scientist advising the Government, warned that there are “pretty serious” outbreaks in parts of England and medics warned of increasing hospital admissions.
Mr Jenrick was pressed on whether new restrictions on the hospitality industry could come as early as Monday as rates soar in cities including Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle.
“It is correct to say the number of cases in the North West and the North East and a number of cities, particularly in the Midlands like Nottingham, are rising fast and that is a serious situation,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“We are currently considering what steps we should take, obviously taking the advice of our scientific and medical advisers, and a decision will be made shortly.”
But he said that a “localised but proportionate response has to be the way forwards” amid calls from experts to impose new national measures.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that it was “commonsensical” that the longer individuals spend in pubs the more likely they are to transmit the virus and stressed the need to “take action decisively”.
But he said he was working with Chancellor Rishi Sunak to consider fresh support for the hospitality sector because businesses could be put in a “really difficult, intolerable position”.
Dr Kucharski, a member of the Government’s scientific pandemic influenza group on modelling, warned of worsening infection rates in parts of England.
“So, I think we are in a situation where cases are rising and they are going to continue to rise unless something changes,” the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine scientist told Today.
“We have got now good evidence that a lot of transmission particularly happens at prolonged indoor interactions, particularly among close-knit gatherings, so, obviously pubs and restaurants are one potential setting for that to happen.”
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, said the “indications are not looking good” as she urged people to stick to local lockdown measures.
She told Breakfast the nation was at a “tipping point” and warned virus transmission could “get out of control”.
Downing Street and the Department of Health and Social Care both declined to comment on the reports that new restrictions on hospitality will come as soon as Monday.
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham reacted angrily, tweeting: “No discussion. No consultation. Millions of lives affected by Whitehall diktat. It is proving impossible to deal with this Government.”
Tory backbenchers warned MPs must be given a vote before any such measures are brought into force in line with assurances given last week by Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
Rebels are threatening to try to overturn the 10pm curfew in an expected Commons vote next week, amid claims that it is proving counterproductive in health terms while further damaging the already weakened economy.
At Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Sir Keir Starmer challenged Boris Johnson to produce the science behind the curfew, raising the prospect of a Government defeat if Labour joins the rebels in the division lobbies.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced a “short, sharp” package of measures to come into force in Scotland from 6pm on Friday.
Under the new rules, indoor hospitality venues will only be allowed to operate between 6am and 6pm daily, selling food and non-alcoholic drinks only, while outdoor bars will be allowed to serve alcohol until 10pm.
In the five regions with the highest number of cases, including Glasgow and Edinburgh, licensed premises will have to shut for a 16-day period, although they can offer takeaway services.
In England, Nottingham looks set to be the latest area to face new restrictions following a surge in infections.
The latest official figures showed that, as of 9am on Wednesday, there had been a further 14,162 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK and that a further 70 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19.