London, 18 September 2020 (dpa/MIA) — The British government imposed local lockdowns affecting some 2 million people in north-eastern England on Thursday, amid a surge of confirmed coronavirus infections.
Health Minister Matt Hancock said residents should not mix with people outside their families or “support bubbles” in the six affected areas from Friday, ordering hospitality and entertainment venues to observe an overnight curfew from 10 pm to 5 am.
Hancock said the six areas, centered around the city of Newcastle, all had “concerning rates of infection.”
“The battle against coronavirus is not over – and while we strain every sinew to spring free from its clutches, with winter on the horizon, we must prepare, bolster our defenses and come together once again against this common foe,” he told parliament.
“One of our vital lines of defense has been taking targeted action at a local level … and now we must take further action.”
Hancock cited a recent infection rate of 103 per 100,000 in the north-eastern city of Sunderland, far above the national average of around 20 per 100,000.
Facing criticism for the speed and availability of tests, he admitted the recent “huge spike in demand” for tests was a challenge for the government.
Only about one-third of people tested had received their results within 24 hours, Hancock said.
The cities of Birmingham, Greater Manchester and Bolton, and parts of Wales and Scotland, had already imposed local restrictions.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said earlier that he was considering a national limit to pub hours and the imposition of more local lockdowns to flatten a second “camel hump” of new infections.
Johnson told popular tabloid newspaper The Sun that he wanted to avoid another national lockdown.
He said pubs could be ordered to shut early, citing the “old days” when they had to close by 11 pm local time.
“That sort of thing, we will be looking at it,” Johnson told the newspaper.
“The crucial thing now is that I do not wish to go into some great lockdown again that stops business from functioning,” he said.
Johnson warned that he needed to take “tough” national measures, including a limit of six people for most gatherings, to enable families to enjoy Christmas parties at the end of the year.
“So if we can grip it now, [we can] stop the surge, arrest the spike, stop the second hump of the dromedary, flatten the second hump,” he said, adding that he was unsure if a dromedary had one or two humps.
A dromedary has one hump while a Bactrian camel has two.
Johnson said in June that Britain had “flattened the sombrero, or whatever I said we would do,” referring to his vow in March to “squash the sombrero,” or suppress the peak of infections.
Britain reported almost 4,000 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday, bringing its total since March to around 378,000.
Its official death toll linked to Covid-19 is more than 41,500, Europe’s highest total.