Britain considers tighter lockdowns on London and northern England

London is joining a growing number of European cities going into stricter lockdown, as the UK battles a second wave of Covid-19.
The British government's critics say a short, sharp nationwide lockdown could be more effective than local measures.
The British government's critics say a short, sharp nationwide lockdown could be more effective than local measures.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (REUTERS) - Tighter Covid-19 lockdowns could be imposed on London and northern England by the British government on Thursday (Oct 15) and Health Secretary Matt Hancock will address parliament, a minister said.

Asked on Sky if Manchester and parts of Lancashire would be placed into tier three, the highest level of local lockdown, junior business minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “Well, as I say, I’m not going to speculate. Matt Hancock is going to make a statement to parliament as to where we are at but you can clearly see the numbers.”

Zahawi said the government was also speaking to London Mayor Sadiq Khan who has called for tougher lockdowns in the capital where 11 boroughs are seeing more than 100 new cases a week per 100,000 people.

The worst hit areas of London are Richmond, Hackney and the City of London, Ealing, Redbridge and Harrow.

While the government says it must act to tackle the swiftly accelerating second wave of the outbreak, there is growing concern about the economic and health costs of the poverty that such lockdowns are inflicting.

The United Kingdom faces a “period of destitution” in which families “can’t put shoes on” children, the government’s former homelessness adviser said.

“Are we actually asking people in places like Liverpool to go out and prostitute themselves, so that they could put food on the table?” Louise Casey told the BBC.

“There’s this sense from Downing Street and from Westminster that people will make do. Well, they weren’t coping before Covid,” she said.

On Wednesday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson resisted a short lockdown for all of England but said he ruled nothing out in the face of calls to shut the country down for two weeks as a "circuit breaker" in order to save lives.

With cases rapidly rising, the British government opted this week for a three-tier system of local measures. The Liverpool area in the northwest became the first part of the country in the highest category, requiring bars, gyms and other businesses to shut, perhaps for months.

Johnson said he would stick to this localised approach, responding to opposition leader Keir Starmer's demand for a temporary national lockdown.

"The whole point is to seize this moment now to avoid the misery of another national lockdown," Johnson told Parliament.

"We're going to do it - and I rule out nothing, of course, in combating the virus - but we are going to do it with the local, the regional, approach that can drive down and will drive down the virus if it is properly implemented."

Britain reported 19,724 new cases of Covid-19 on Wednesday, a rise of 2,490 from the day before, and a daily death toll of 137, compared to Tuesday's 143.

In a sign of the increasingly divided response to the rise in Covid cases, the devolved government in Wales said on Wednesday it planned to ban people living in areas with high infection rates in the rest of the United Kingdom from entering the country.

"We are preparing to take this action to prevent people who live in areas where there are higher Covid infection rates across the UK from travelling to Wales and bringing the virus with them," Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said.

Johnson's spokesman had earlier rejected the need for a ban because residents in the highest tier of the English lockdown system were already advised not to travel outside their area.

The Welsh government said the ban, which it intends to bring into force on Friday at 1700 GMT (1am Saturday Singapore time), was needed because Johnson had not made the travel rules mandatory.

Northern Ireland, which like Wales and Scotland is outside Johnson's tier system, announced on Wednesday the toughest UK coronavirus measures since the pre-summer peak, shutting restaurants and suspending schools.

The British government's critics say a short, sharp nationwide lockdown could be more effective than local measures, and would spread the economic burden more fairly.

Labour Party leader Starmer called on Tuesday for a 2-3 week lockdown, supported on Wednesday by a study from some of Johnson's scientific advisers, which found such a move could save thousands of lives.

A snap poll by YouGov showed 68% would support a so-called 'circuit breaker' lockdown during an upcoming October school holiday, while 20% would oppose one.

"The optimal time for a break is always now," said the paper, co-authored by Graham Medley, a member of the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, and Matt Keeling of the government's pandemic modelling subgroup.

"There are no good epidemiological reasons to delay the break."