More than 2 million people in Merseyside, Warrington and Teesside will be banned by law from mixing with other households indoors in the latest extension of lockdown restrictions.
The decision was announced by Matt Hancock, the health secretary, in the Commons following a meeting chaired by Boris Johnson on Thursday.
Under the new rules, which are an extension of the powers introduced in north-east England earlier this week, it will be illegal for families to meet others they do not live with in all indoor settings including pubs, bars and restaurants.
The measures will apply across Merseyside as well as Warrington, Middlesbrough and Hartlepool. It was not immediately clear when the new rules would come into force.
Hancock told MPs: “We recommend against all social mixing between people in different households. We will bring in regulations, as we have in the north-east, to prevent in law social mixing between different households in all settings except outdoor public spaces like parks and outdoor hospitality.”
The rules will also recommend against all but essential travel on public transport, attending amateur or professional sports events, and only visiting care homes in exceptional circumstances.
Hancock said a £7m support package would be made available to councils in all affected areas.
Coronavirus cases in Merseyside are averaging more than 200 per 100,000 people – more than four times the England average – with Liverpool and Knowsley recording the highest infection rates in England.
Measures that restrict social gatherings in pubs, bars and restaurants – such as those introduced in part of north-east England – will have a particularly significant impact on the Merseyside economy given its reliance on hospitality and tourism. The industries account for half of the business rates that fund public services in Liverpool.
Steve Rotheram, the metro mayor of the Liverpool city region, and six civic leaders, warned on Wednesday that Merseyside’s public finances were “at breaking point” and they needed a “comprehensive package of financial support” from the Treasury when new lockdown measures are imposed.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday:
“All of our figures are going badly in the wrong direction. We’re seeing exponential growth in the number of cases, we’ve seen hospital admissions start to be impacted now. We will unfortunately see the resulting deaths.”
However, Rotheram said it was important that the government set out a “roadmap” for exiting the restrictions because other areas had been stuck in what he described as a “Hotel California situation” where they can never get out.
George Eustice, the environment secretary, said local restrictions would be lifted once the infection rate in those areas “gets back more in line with the national trend”.
In a joint statement, the political leaders said their local authorities had already incurred losses of more than £350m since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Senior figures believe more than 20,000 jobs could be lost in the hospitality industry by Christmas without urgent support.
They said: “We are already at breaking point. With new restrictions – and who knows for how long they might be needed? – our economy and public services may collapse. If we do not act now, we will see a legacy of unemployment and ill-health that will cost lives for generations to come. So, today, we are calling on the government to work with us.”