LONDON • England will end a Covid-19 lockdown on Dec 2 and move into tougher tiered restrictions than before, with more areas facing severe constraints to prevent the coronavirus from reigniting, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's office said.
Mr Johnson ordered England into a month-long lockdown after infections and deaths started to rise again, angering businesses and some of his own political party over the economic consequences.
A second wave of infections has started to flatten, official data shows, but scientific advisers are expected to warn today that previous regional restrictions did not go far enough and harder measures are needed to prevent another national lockdown.
"The Prime Minister and his scientific advisers are clear the virus is still present - and without regional restrictions it could quickly run out of control again," a spokesman said. "That would put in jeopardy the progress the country has made."
Britain has suffered the worst death toll in Europe and the deepest economic contraction of any Group of Seven nation, prompting sharp criticism of Mr Johnson's handling of the pandemic.
Prior to the latest lockdown, England had been placed into three tiers, with the toughest measures imposed in northern England, where movement was limited and pubs were forced to close unless they sold substantial meals.
Mr Johnson's office said the Prime Minister would set out a new Covid Winter Plan today, with more areas placed on the highest-tiered restrictions. The plan will also include details on interactions at Christmas.
Ministers will announce which areas will be placed into which tier on Thursday, with lawmakers able to vote on the system before it comes into force. The tiers will be reviewed.
The move is likely to be met with fierce resistance from some lawmakers who argue that the country cannot afford to close shops and hospitality again after unemployment numbers and debt jumped, and economic output plunged 20 per cent in the second quarter.
The government has argued that the virus will overwhelm hospitals and cripple the economy if it is left unchecked.
The opposition Labour Party said a package of support would be needed for any business having to close.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also under varying levels of restrictions, set by their local governments.
In Portugal, domestic travel will be banned and schools shut around two holidays to reduce the spread of Covid-19 ahead of Christmas, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said on Saturday.
Travel between municipalities will be banned from 11pm on Friday to 5am on Dec 2, and then again from 11pm on Dec 4 to 5am on Dec 9, to prevent movement around national holidays on Dec 1 and Dec 8.
Schools will shut on the Mondays before both holidays, while businesses must close early. Employers are being encouraged to give workers the day off in order to minimise travel activity.
"We continue to have a very high number of cases, which is a threat to our health," Mr Costa said. "We must persist to not only halt that growth rate but (also) invert it."
Masks, already mandatory in public and enclosed commercial spaces, are now also mandatory in the workplace, he added.
A night-time curfew and weekend lockdown after 1pm in 191 municipalities since Nov 9 will continue for a further two weeks in 174 municipalities with particularly high infection rates.
Portugal, with around 10 million people, ranks seventh in Europe for the number of cumulative cases per 100,000 people and 14th for the number of new deaths.
Meanwhile, Italy plans to launch a massive vaccination campaign in January, Health Minister Roberto Speranza said on Saturday.
The vaccine drive "will get under way towards the end of January when we hope to have the first doses", Dr Speranza said. "This campaign will be without precedent... It will require an extraordinary mobilisation (of resources)."
Italy is also struggling to cope with a devastating second wave of the pandemic, and has recorded some 1.3 million cases and a death toll of nearly 50,000.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE