Mail Online: LONDON, England – A total social lockdown for London and parts of the North is ‘inevitable’ and the government has only stopped short of acting so far because they fear the public backlash, it was claimed today.
Ministers are mulling an emergency plan that would see pubs, restaurants and bars forced to shut for at least two weeks and households banned from mixing indoors.
The draconian blueprint – similar to the “circuit breaker” knocked back by the Cabinet last week – would try to prop up the economy by keeping workplaces open where people cannot do their duties from home, and children would still go to schools.
Health minister Helen Whately insisted this morning that the government did not want to go further than the 10pm edict on closing pubs announced last week.
But she warned that it was keeping a ‘constant eye’ on coronavirus case rates and would act if necessary. The ‘Rule of Six’ limit on people socialising has now been in place for two weeks, which is the point experts said it will be possible to assess if it is bringing the outbreak under control.
What are the proposed social lockdown measures?
The proposed social lockdown measures include ordering the closure of all bars, pubs and restaurants for two weeks and possibly longer.
People from separate households would no longer be able to mix in indoor locations.
Government insiders said that the first total social lockdowns were likely to be imposed in Merseyside and the northeast, while Greater Manchester and other towns across the northwest were also at risk.
London also faces a total social lockdown if Covid-19 cases continue to rise rapidly.
However Mr Johnson and other ministers eventually rejected them, fearing a backlash from Tory MPs and members of the public.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Environment Secretary George Eustice are believed to be some of the strongest voices warning of huge damage to the economy if restrictions are too tough.
But a senior government source told The Times ramping up the measures had not been ruled out.
“The nation and the party wasn’t ready for us to go any further last week,” they said.
‘There wasn’t a wide enough understanding of how substantial the second wave could be.
“Unlike the first lockdown, nobody has seen pictures of body bags in Spain or France on the TV yet, which had a very powerful effect. You have to take people with you.
“Tougher measures on social interaction will have to come though. They’re inevitable in some parts if you look at the numbers.”
The emergency measures could be imposed in Covid-19 hotspots including Merseyside and the northeast as early as this week.
Liverpool recorded 146.3 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people last week, up from 95.8 the week before, while South Tyneside recorded 137.8 cases per 100,000 last week, up from 86.
London could also be placed on a total social lockdown if infection rates continue to rise, with one government figure describing the capital’s fate as ‘in the balance’, The Times reported.
Downing Street hopes to avoid a national social lockdown, with infection rates remaining low in the country’s southwest and southeast outside of London.
Michael Gove is thought to have lined up with Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden stressing the need for tougher action.
But other Cabinet ministers such as Mr Sunak, Mr Eustice and Home Secretary Priti Patel favour keeping the economy more open.
It comes as new local lockdowns, further restrictions and tough new fines for failing to self-isolate come into force across parts of the UK today.
People across England will be legally required to self-isolate from this week if they test positive for coronavirus or are contacted by the test and trace service.
If they do not they risk being hit with new fines starting at £1,000 and increasing up to £10,000 for repeat offenders or serious breaches.
Police will also be checking compliance in the highest incidence areas and in high-risk groups based on ‘local intelligence’.
10pm curfew on pubs ‘is doing more harm than good’
The government’s 10pm curfew on pubs is doing ‘more harm than good’, it was claimed today.
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has demanded an urgent review of the measure, saying it had merely resulted in people gathering in shops and homes.
“I received reports that the supermarkets were absolutely packed out to the rafters with people gathering,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.”‘I think there needs to be an urgent review of the emerging evidence from police forces across the country.
‘My gut feeling is that this curfew is doing more harm than good.”‘It creates an incentive for people to gather in the street or more probably to gather in the home.
“That is the opposite of what local restrictions here are trying to do.”
However, the details of the restrictions – which were only published last night – show that there are a series of exemptions from isolation rules.
People can break the quarantine to get ‘essential’ shopping, if their pets need ‘urgent veterinary services’, or to attend the funeral of a ‘close family member’.
To help boost compliance, those on low incomes who cannot work from home and have lost income will also be eligible for a new £500 test and trace support payment.
Under new rules in England wedding ceremonies will also be restricted to 15 people.
In a round of interviews today, Ms Whately said the Government could not rule out further restrictions if coronavirus infections continued to rise.
“We don’t want to bring in more restrictions but of course we keep a constant eye on what’s going with the Covid rates and we have seen these upward trends in recent weeks,’ she told Sky News.
“This is the moment in time we have an opportunity, we have a choice as a country to get this back down under control.
“We have to break these chains of transmission. That’s the way we get the rates back down again. We have seen them going up again in the last two weeks.”
She also batted away criticism of the pub curfew.
“As people drink more they tend to socially distance less. So one approach to keeping people socially distancing is to limit the amount of time that people are in places where they are drinking and then this breaking down of compliance with the rules,’ she told BBC1’s Breakfast programme.
“We have also seen in some of the places where there have been higher rates over the summer that sometimes bars have been the places where there has been an outbreak so this is a reason why one of the actions we have taken is to have people stopping being out drinking at an earlier time.”
But Mr Burnham demanded an urgent review of the measure, saying it had merely resulted in people gathering in shops and homes.
“I received reports that the supermarkets were absolutely packed out to the rafters with people gathering,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“I think there needs to be an urgent review of the emerging evidence from police forces across the country.
“My gut feeling is that this curfew is doing more harm than good.
“It creates an incentive for people to gather in the street or more probably to gather in the home.
“That is the opposite of what local restrictions here are trying to do.”
Meanwhile three more council areas in South Wales will go into local lockdown from 6pm on Monday, the Welsh Government has announced.
Neath Port Talbot, Torfaen and the Vale of Glamorgan will be covered by the restrictions, which mean people will not be able to enter or leave the areas without a reasonable excuse.
People ordered to quarantine after they or a contact test positive for the virus face a knock on the door from officers to check they are not leaving their home.
It comes amid a growing revolt by Tory MPs over the way Mr Johnson‘s Government is infringing liberties with restrictions to tackle the pandemic.
Signalling a tough crackdown, Home Secretary Priti Patel warned last night that ministers ‘will not allow those who break the rules to reverse the hard-won progress made by the law-abiding majority’.
From today, people across England are required by law to quarantine for ten days if they test positive for Covid-19 or are contacted by NHS Test and Trace.
Those who do not self-isolate – or employers who force staff to turn up to work – will be hit with fines of up to £10,000.
The police will be used to ‘check compliance’ with the rules and will investigate claims by informers that a person who should be in quarantine is flouting the requirement.