British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday ordered pubs in Liverpool to shut as part of a new strategy to tackle a surge in coronavirus cases, as staff at three field hospitals across the country were told to prepare for a wave of admissions.
The northwest English city is the first to be placed at “very high risk” under a new three-tiered system designed to bring order to what has become a complex web of local restrictions.
Johnson addressed the nation to explain the decision, saying the latest figures “are flashing at us like dashboard warnings in a passenger jet and we must act now”.
He earlier told MPs that he could not allow Covid-19 to “let rip” and risk the death toll — the highest in Europe at almost 43,000 — spiralling even higher.
“This is not how we want to live our lives,” the Conservative leader, who himself was hospitalised with coronavirus in April, told the House of Commons.
“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 economic cost of an uncontained epidemic.”
Inter-household mixing will be banned indoors and in private gardens while pubs, bars, gyms, betting shops and casinos will close from Wednesday in Liverpool, which has a population of about 1.5 million.
People will be advised not to travel in and out of these areas.
Johnson said businesses forced to close would be supported under a new government programme to fund two-thirds of an employee’s monthly wages, as well as extra support for local contact tracing and enforcement.
Other areas of England will be classed either as “medium”, in which current nationwide rules limiting social gatherings to six will apply, or “high”, where different households are banned from mixing indoors.
Whole swathes of northern England already facing local restrictions will automatically enter the “high” risk tier.
Earlier, the state-run National Health Service (NHS) announced that three field hospitals across northern England, in Manchester, Sunderland and Harrogate, would be mobilised to accept new patients.
They are among a string of temporary hospitals, named after nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale, put up by the military in conference centres and stadia coronavirus as swept across the UK earlier this year.
Testing for hospital staff is also being stepped up in high-risk areas, as health officials warned infection rates were rising across the country and in all age ranges, not just the young.
Almost 14,000 new coronavirus cases were reported across the UK on Monday, with 50 further deaths.