After a quiet summer where life largely returned to normal, England now faces new restrictions designed to slow the spread of COVID-19.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced in the House of Commons on Tuesday morning that pubs, bars and restaurants in England must close at 10 p.m.
Most of the country is in the lowest tier – medium – but millions of people in the North and the Midlands face extra curbs on households mixing.
The Liverpool region is the only area to be under the toughest rules, with pubs and bars not serving meals closed.
Government health officials are due to meet later to discuss the possibility of Greater Manchester, Lancashire and some other areas joining the top tier.
Hours before the top tier rules came into force in Liverpool, police were forced to disperse large crowds in the city.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland is set to extend the half-term holidays for schools, from Monday, alongside other new measures aimed at curbing the spread of the virus.
And in Wales a short circuit breaker lockdown is being “actively considered” by the government.
He also encouraged people who are able to work from home to do so, reversing a previous government position.
“This is the moment when we must act,” Johnson said. “If we can curb the number of daily infections and reduce the reproduction rate to one, then we can save lives, protect the NHS [National Health Service] and the most vulnerable, and shelter the economy from the far sterner and more costly measures that would inevitably become necessary later on.”
In addition, the prime minister said weddings will be limited to 15 people, though funerals are limited to 30.
These measures follow rules imposed last week limiting social gatherings to no more than six people, indoors or out. The U.K. government’s COVID-19 dashboard shows that after a surge of cases and deaths this spring, a second wave of new cases began in August and has risen sharply this month.
On Monday, the U.K. reported nearly 4,400 new cases.
“We have, in a bad sense, literally turned a corner,” Chris Witty, England’s chief medical officer, said Monday in a national telecast. “I think everybody will realize that at this point, the seasons are against us. … This period of the next six months, I think we have to realize that we have to take this collectively very seriously.”
There is skepticism about how much of an impact Johnson’s new measures will have. For instance, in suburban London, the curfew would trim the operating time of some pubs only by 90 minutes.
Meanwhile, the government continues to fail to meet the demand for coronavirus testing, raising concerns it won’t be able to track the virus’s spread this fall.
“We warned the prime minister months ago that testing needed to be fixed by the autumn,” said Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party, responding to Johnson in the House of Commons. “But the government didn’t listen.
They pretended it wasn’t a problem. They didn’t act quickly enough. Now the testing system isn’t working just when we need it.”