London: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday laid out the details of a new graded three-tier system of COVID-19 alert levels, which will categorise the localised lockdowns across England into “medium, high or very high” based on their coronavirus transmission rate.
The very high alert level will apply where transmission rates are rising “most rapidly”, with social mixing banned indoors and outdoors and a forced closure of pubs and other hospitality businesses.
Addressing Parliament, Johnson said the new categories are intended to “simplify and standardise” all the different lockdown rules already in place.
The new rules are to be debated by MPs in the House of Commons on Tuesday before coming into force from Wednesday, with a review of the system in a month’s time.
“This is not how we want to live our lives, 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 indeed economic cost of an uncontained epidemic,” Johnson told members of Parliament.
“I must warn the House the weeks and months ahead will continue to be difficult and will test the mettle of this country. I have no doubt at all that together we will succeed,” he said.
The medium alert level or Tier 1 is the lowest alert level, which will cover most of the country and involve the current national lockdown measures of the “rule of six” on gatherings and hospitality sector shutdowns at 10pm.
Tier 2, or the high alert level, will involve restrictions already in place in some local areas with stricter bans on indoor mixing but outdoor mixing allowed within the rule of six numbers.
The “very high alert level”, or Tier 3, will apply where the state-funded National Health Service (NHS) could soon be under “unbearable pressure” without further restrictions, with Merseyside including the city of Liverpool falling into this highest grade.
Johnson confirmed that most areas already subject to local restrictions – on top of the national rules – will automatically move into the “high alert” category or Tier 2.
In addition, Nottinghamshire, east and west Cheshire, and a small area of the High Peak will also move into that tier, after a rise in cases in those areas.
“We want to create the maximum possible local consensus behind this more severe local action, 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,” said Johnson.
“I believe not to act would be unforgivable so I hope that rapid progress can be made in the coming days,” he said, in an appeal to local leaders to support the government’s latest lockdown approach.
His appeal came as the Opposition Labour Leader, Sir Kier Starmer, said he is “deeply sceptical” that the government has a plan to control the virus and regain public trust and called on Johnson to stop “flip flopping”.
The criticism came as there is growing discontent within the hospitality sector about the forced closures, with the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) issuing a warning of legal action against the government.
“The industry has been left with no other option but to legally challenge the so called ”common sense” approach narrative from government, on the implementation of further restrictions across the north of England,” said Michael Kill, CEO of NTIA, which represents thousands of the UK”s pubs, bars and other hospitality businesses.
“These new measures will have a catastrophic impact on late night businesses, and are exacerbated further by an insufficient financial support package presented by the Chancellor in an attempt to sustain businesses through this period,” he said.
Meanwhile, the daily coronavirus figures released by the UK government shows an additional 13,972 confirmed cases on Monday and a further 50 people had died with COVID-19, after testing positive within the last 28 days.