Millions of people in northern England face stricter coronavirus rules next week, the government said Friday as it perseveres with a localised response to surging case rates.
From Monday, nearly 2.4 million residents in five districts of West Yorkshire, including in the city of Leeds, will be barred from socialising with other households indoors.
Pubs and bars not serving “substantial meals” must close, alongside casinos, betting shops, soft play facilities, and adult gaming centres.
The public has also been told to avoid unnecessary travel.
The Department of Health said the measures were needed as infection rates in West Yorkshire were “among the highest in the country” and rising rapidly.
The move means more than 11 million people or about a fifth of England’s population will be under the tightest restrictions from next week.
Most of the areas in the “very high” category of the government’s three-tier Covid alert system are in northern and central parts of the country.
Nottingham became the latest city to enter the highest tier Friday.
On Thursday night, young people took to the streets in fancy dress and drank alcohol in large groups before a ban on alcohol sales in shops came into force at 2100 GMT.
Britain has already been the worst-hit in Europe by the pandemic, as more than 45,000 people have died within 28 days after testing positive.
Case rates are spiralling again after a lull, tracking the situation elsewhere in Europe.
Cases are doubling every nine days and rising in all age groups and regions, according to the ongoing study by Imperial College London and Ipsos MORI.
– ‘Targeted’ –
Britain’s European neighbours and the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have reimposed partial lockdowns to try to cut infection rates.
But Prime Minister Boris Johnson has resisted his top scientists’ advice to follow suit in England, where the UK government sets health policy.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Friday the government would continue its “targeted and focused” strategy of local restrictions in virus hotspots.
“It is the right thing to do to target the virus where it is the greatest threat… and the science backs that up,” he told BBC radio.
“The arbitrariness of a blanket approach would be far worse than the effects of trying to be as targeted as possible.”
Meanwhile, a new study reported Friday that a Covid-19 variant originating in Spanish farm workers has spread rapidly throughout Europe in recent months and now accounts for most cases in Britain.
The variant — called 20A.EU1 — is thought to have been spread from northeastern Spain by people returning from holidays there, according to the study, which is awaiting peer review in a medical journal.
There is currently no evidence that the strain spreads faster or impacts illness severity and immunity.
“We are in the process of working with labs to more closely inspect the mutations, but we actually think that it’s really behaviour here that was the key point,” University of Basel researcher Emma Hodcroft, the study’s lead author, told BBC radio.