LONDON • The world's international financial capital London was set to enter a tighter Covid-19 lockdown from midnight last night as Prime Minister Boris Johnson seeks to tackle a swiftly accelerating second coronavirus wave.
The respiratory pandemic, which emerged in China last year and has killed more than a million people worldwide, is spreading in most parts of Britain, whose official death toll of 43,155 is the highest in Europe.
Anger, though, is rising over the economic, social and health costs of the biggest curtailment of freedoms since wartime.
One former government adviser warned some people would have trouble clothing their children soon.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said London - which has a population of nine million - and the adjacent, heavily populated county of Essex would be put on a high alert level, up from medium, at one minute past midnight (7.01am today, Singapore time).
The main impact of the move to the high alert level is that people cannot meet other households socially in any setting indoors - for example, at home or in a restaurant.
Travel should be reduced where possible, Mr Hancock said.
"Things will get worse before they get better," Mr Hancock said. "But I know that there are brighter skies and calmer seas ahead - that the ingenuity of science will find a way through, and until then, we must come together."
Britain's move to halt socialising in its capital means that London and Paris - Europe's two richest cities - are shortly to be living under the shadow of state-imposed restrictions as the second wave of the outbreak spreads through Europe.
French President Emmanuel Macron announced night curfews for four weeks from today in Paris and other major cities.
Daily cases in France have jumped to more than 17,000 from less than 12,000 a week ago, and more than 40 per cent of intensive-care beds in the Paris region are taken by Covid-19 patients.
There is now even the suggestion that France's regional elections next March will be delayed.
London, the world's centre for international banking and foreign exchange trading, is rivalled only by New York in financial clout.
The worst-hit London areas are Richmond, Hackney, the City of London, Ealing, Redbridge and Harrow.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said: "I must warn Londoners: We've got a difficult winter ahead."
Manchester, in the north of England and one of Britain's largest cities, had been tipped to be moved to "very high" alert from "high", but Mr Hancock said talks with local leaders were continuing, so no decision had yet been made.
Mr Johnson, who scored a landslide election victory last December, says his government is fighting a war against the virus and that some sacrifices are necessary to save lives. But opponents say his Conservative government was too slow to act when the virus first struck, failed to protect the elderly in care homes, and bungled the testing system.
In areas put on the high alert level, socialising outside households or support bubbles is not allowed indoors, though work can continue and schools continue to operate.
The "very high" alert level forbids socialising, forces pubs and bars to close and prohibits travel outside the area.
The government's former homelessness adviser, Dame Louise Casey, said Britain faces a "period of destitution" in which some families "can't put shoes on" children.
"Are we actually asking people in places like Liverpool to go out and prostitute themselves, so that they could put food on the table?" Ms Casey told the BBC.
Liverpool in England's north-west is already in the highest-risk tier.
"There's this sense from Downing Street and from Westminster that people will make do," Ms Casey said, referring to the national government's headquarters. "Well, they weren't coping before Covid."