LONDON — Boris Johnson is desperate to avoid another full lockdown but the second coronavirus wave is biting hard.
Pubs and bars will be closed and socializing between households, both indoors and in gardens, will be prohibited in the city of Liverpool and surrounding areas, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday, as he set out a new three-tier system designed to manage the next phase of the pandemic in England.
The Liverpool city region becomes the first part of the country to be placed into a new “very high” COVID-alert category, Johnson said, reserved for areas where hospitals “could soon be under unbearable pressure” because of rising infection rates.
Many other areas of the country, particularly in the north west and north east, where local restrictions are already in place, will be grouped into a new “high” alert category, while most of England will be categorized “medium” and retain the current national restrictions, including a ban on more than six people meeting.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Johnson said the U.K. was facing “the stark reality of the second wave of this virus” and that the number of cases had quadrupled in the past three weeks. However, he said would not revive the total lockdown seen during the first wave and that even in “very high” alert areas, schools and shops will remain open.
The government has faced criticism from local leaders in the north and other parts of England in recent days, over what they say has been a lack of consultation and clarity about the planned new measures. Such a north-south divide is particularly politically problematic for the prime minister because of the importance he placed on “leveling up” opportunities across neglected parts of the country, and particularly northern communities, during his election campaign last year.
Local government leaders in areas under the strictest rules would be empowered to treat national government measures as a “baseline” and impose further restrictions if considered necessary, Johnson said.
“We want to create the maximum possible local consensus behind this more severe local action,” Johnson said. “So in each area, we will work with local government leaders on the additional measures which should be taken. This could lead to further restrictions on the hospitality, leisure, entertainment or personal care sectors. But retail, schools and universities will remain open.”
The government had reached an agreement with leaders in the Liverpool city region, Johnson said, where, in addition to the baseline measures, gyms, leisure centers, betting shops and casinos will also close.
Rejecting the idea of pursuing a herd immunity strategy while isolating the elderly and vulnerable, Johnson said such an approach would see the virus spread “with such velocity in the general population, that there would be no way of stopping it from spreading among the elderly.”