Boris Johnson has unveiled a new three-tiered lockdown system, with Liverpool put under the harshest coronavirus restrictions.
As of tomorrow, pubs in Merseyside will be shut, while social mixing will be prohibited indoors as the government aims to reduce spiralling infection rates.
The prime minister made the long-awaited announcement on a new system for local measures, saying he wanted to “simplify and standardise” the rules after positive tests in the north of England continue to rise.
The announcement came after there had been anger from local MPs over the way the measures were announced, with a series of calls with health secretary Matt Hancock this morning described as a "shambles".
The new tiers are:
- “Medium”, which will cover much of the UK, and will see existing policies such as the "rule of six" and the 10pm hospitality curfew remain in place.
- The “high” level, for areas already under stricter rules, rules out household mixing indoors. Support bubbles will still be permitted, and the rule of six will cover socialising outdoors in parks and gardens.
- The “very high” third tier goes further, and will close pubs and bars unless they can operate as a restaurant, and people will be advised against travel in and out of the areas. Other venues such as gyms or casinos could be closed, but the decision will be up to local leaders, and a four-week sunset clause will apply to the restrictions.
Those businesses forced to shut can get a cash grant of £3,000 a month, the PM said.
He began his statement in the Commons by warning there are more people in hospital with coronavirus than when the country first went into a national lockdown.
"This morning, the deputy chief medical officer set out the stark reality of the second wave of this virus,” Johnson told MPs, after a press conference by Jonathan Van-Tam earlier today.
"The number of cases has quadrupled in the last three weeks, there are now more people in hospital with Covid than when we went into lockdown on March 23 and deaths are already rising.”
But he said he did not believe a full lockdown would be the right course: "And of course, there are those who say that on that logic, we should go back into a full national lockdown of indefinite duration, closing schools and businesses, telling people again to stay at home as we did in March. Once again shattering our lives and our society.
"I do not believe that would be the right course. We would not only be depriving our children of their education, we would do such damage to our economy as to erode our long-term ability to fund the NHS and other crucial public services.
"And on the other side of the argument, there are those who think that the patience of the public is now exhausted, that we should abandon the fight against Covid, stand aside, let nature take her course and call a halt to these repressions of liberty."
He said the R value was already being suppressed to "well below" its natural level, but further measures are needed after record numbers of positive cases in recent days.
"Left unchecked, each person with the virus will infect an average of between 2.7 and 3 others, but Sage assesses that the current R nationally is between 1.2 and 1.5,” the PM explained.
"So we are already suppressing that R to well below its natural level, which is why the virus is not spreading as quickly as it did in March. But we need to go further.
"In recent months we have worked with local leaders to counter local spikes with targeted restrictions, but this local approach has inevitably produced different sets of rules in different parts of the country that are now complex to understand and to enforce.”
He also confirmed the Commons will get a chance to debate and vote on the new rules regime tomorrow before it comes into effect on Wednesday.
Every local authority area will be placed in one of the tiers by the end of today, and a postcode checker will be launched on the government's website to advise people what the guidance in their area is.
The PM added: "This is not how we want to live our lives, but this is the narrow path we have to tread between the social and economic trauma of a full lockdown and the massive human and indeed economic cost of an un-contained epidemic.
"With local and regional and national government coming together, in a shared responsibility and a shared effort to deliver ever better testing and tracing, ever more efficient enforcement of the rules, and with ever improving therapies with the mountains of PPE, and the ventilators that we have stockpiled.
"With all the lessons we have learned in the last few months, we're becoming better and better at fighting this virus.”
In response, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: "We will consider the package, we will look at the small print of the prime minister's statement, we will discuss them with local mayors, councillors and leaders in the areas most affected and we'll scrutinise the economic package that sits alongside them.
"But I have to say to the prime minister I am now deeply sceptical that the government has actually got a plan to get control of this virus. To protect jobs, or regain public trust.
"We've tried to give the prime minister the benefit of the doubt, but it increasingly feels like the Prime Minister is several steps behind the curve and running to catch up with a virus that he has lost control of long ago."