No 10 has warned that the UK is at a “critical juncture” for controlling the spread of Covid as Boris Johnson prepares to lay out new rules that will see pubs and bars in areas with the highest infection rate forced to close.
The prime minister is expected to address the nation on Monday after a frantic weekend of discussion with local leaders from across the country.
Johnson will tell the House of Commons that areas in England will be graded in three tiers as medium, high and very high risk as the government struggles to suppress the virus in the north-west England and parts of the Midlands and north-east England and central Scotland.
In a move that is meant to underline the gravity of the situation that the UK faces, Johnson will on Monday evening front a televised Downing Street press conference with the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, and England’s chief medical officer, Prof Chris Whitty. A public data briefing will also be held by health officials including the country’s deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van Tam, who on Sunday said the UK is at a ‘tipping point”.
Downing Street’s chief strategic adviser, Sir Edward Lister, headed several hours of talks with council leaders over the weekend and into Sunday evening. During the weekend, senior No 10 advisers and the housing, communities and local government secretary, Robert Jenrick, also held discussions with local authority leaders and mayors from the highest areas of concern.
Council leaders in Liverpool are preparing to clash with the government following reports that all restaurants except for takeaways will also close in the city. Sources said this contradicted assurances to local leaders that restaurants would be allowed to remain open until 10pm.
Following criticism of the government for ignoring regional mayors and council leaders, a No 10 statement praised local politicians and reiterated the importance of their roles in helping to shape the package of measures.
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “Our primary focus has always been to protect lives and livelihoods while controlling the spread of the virus and these measures will help achieve that aim. We must do everything we can to protect the NHS and make sure it can continue to deliver the essential services that so many people rely on.
“This is a critical juncture and it is absolutely vital that everyone follows the clear guidance we have set out to help contain the virus.”
Before making a statement to MPs on Monday, Johnson will chair a meeting of the government’s Cobra committee to determine the final interventions to announce in parliament.
Areas with relatively low infection levels will be placed in what is being described as tier 1. Only national restrictions such as the rule of six, the 10pm curfew on restaurants and pubs and existing rules on masks and social distancing will apply.
The next tier is likely to include bans on home visits and indoor socialising with other households in bars or restaurants.
Those living under the toughest tier 3 restrictions – in areas including Merseyside, Manchester and Newcastle – are expected to see the closure of bars and pubs. The restrictions on tier 3 towns and cities could last several months but are expected to be regularly reviewed, government sources said.
Restaurants in tier 3 councils were expected to be allowed to stay open until 10pm, the Guardian was told by informed council sources, but casinos, gyms and betting shops will be expected to close.
However, government sources have reportedly disputed that restaurants would be allowed to remain open in Liverpool, and claimed that “nothing has been agreed” until Monday morning.
The mayor of Liverpool city region, Steve Rotheram, expressed concern at the way talks with Merseyside’s leaders have been conducted. “It appears that the government in good faith entered these talks, but it is a real pity that some of the details of them were leaked before we had a chance to sign things off,” he told the BBC. Talks are expected to resume on Monday, with council leaders from north-east England expected to call in to Downing Street.
Meanwhile in London the mayor, Sadiq Khan, is understood to be alarmed at the spread of the virus throughout the city and is warning that additional restrictions soon are now highly likely. He is in close contact with Matt Hancock, the health secretary, and other city leaders about the situation.
Nottingham’s weekly rate of new Covid-19 cases has climbed even higher to 830 cases per 100,000 people, figures revealed on Sunday. It remains well ahead of the area with the second highest rate in England, Knowsley, which is now on 669.5 cases per 100,000.
It comes as business leaders prepare to mount a legal challenge against the government’s lockdown restrictions, which they say have “decimated the hospitality industry”. The challenge to the legality of emergency legislation is due to be handed to Downing Street on Monday.
Sacha Lord, Greater Manchester’s night-time economy adviser, who is leading the challenge, is hoping to overturn the new restrictions amid claims that it is proving counterproductive in health terms while further damaging the already weakened economy.
In another new departure, councils are expected to be allowed to call upon the services of the armed forces if they need additional support implementing measures across their cities.
It is expected that servicemen and women would be asked to help local councils implement their own tracing schemes to test, identify and locate people who may have the virus.
The plans are still being finalised following a day of intense lobbying from ministers, Conservative MPs and council leaders from across the country.
Local restrictions have been imposed for weeks, but there are concerns that mixed messages and confusion over changes to the rules have limited their effectiveness.
The UK recorded a further 12,872 lab-confirmed positive cases of coronavirus on Sunday, as well as 65 deaths. It brings the UK’s total number of deaths within 28 days of a positive test to 42,825.
The government is also considering banning residents from travelling outside the region without good reason, a ban on overnight stays outside your own home which would damage the hotel industry and shutting leisure venues such as cinemas.
Some of the new restrictions were leaked over the weekend to media outlets, but Johnson is under pressure not to confirm or deny reports before making an announcement to parliament after facing fierce criticism from the Speaker Sir Lyndsay Hoyle.
The plans would be debated on Tuesday, and could be implemented as soon as Wednesday, sources said.
Downing Street declined to comment on the talks.