Stoke, Slough and Coventry moved into tier 2 Covid measures

Simon Murphy Political correspondent
<span>Photograph: Jessica Taylor/EPA</span>
Photograph: Jessica Taylor/EPA

Hundreds of thousands of people in Stoke-on-Trent, Coventry and Slough are facing tougher Covid-19 restrictions including a ban on households mixing socially indoors.

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, announced that from Saturday the three areas would move into tier 2 of England’s three-tier system.

He said rates of infection were surging in the areas, with a “concerning” increase in coronavirus cases among people aged over 60, prompting the government to act.

Unveiling the new measures in the House of Commons on Thursday, Hancock said: “Unfortunately we’re seeing rising rates of infection in Stoke-on-Trent, in Coventry and in Slough. In all of these areas there are over 100 positive cases per 100,000 people, cases are doubling around every fortnight, and we’re seeing a concerning increase of cases among the over-60s.

default

“So we’ve agreed, in partnership with local leaders, to move these areas into the high local alert level, coming into force at one minute past midnight on Saturday. The central change is that people cannot now meet other households socially indoors. This applies in any setting, at home or in a restaurant or any other venue.

“The rule of six still applies to any outdoor setting and although you may continue to travel to open venues, you should reduce the number of journeys where possible.”

Thanking local leaders for their work and cooperation, Hancock sought to reassure people living in the three areas that they would be supported by the government, including with new economic measures announced by the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, earlier on Thursday.

Hancock said the government was formally beginning talks with Warrington, in Cheshire, about moving it into the highest alert level, tier 3.

In tier 2, hospitality businesses such as pubs and restaurants are allowed to remain open but people are only allowed to visit them with members of their own household, or support bubble.

Stoke-on-Trent, in Staffordshire, has a population of 256,375, Coventry’s population is 371,521, and 149,539 live in Slough, in Berkshire, according to a 2019 mid-year estimate by the Office for National Statistics.

Responding in the Commons, the shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, pressed the government over its decision not to follow the guidance of scientific advisers and enact a nationwide “circuit breaker” lockdown.

He expressed concern that the approach taken by ministers meant tougher action would be necessary in the coming weeks. “We’re only in autumn, winter has not hit us yet,” he said.

Related: Treasury denies Rishi Sunak's restaurant meeting broke Covid rules

Hancock pledged to give councils stronger enforcement powers to shut premises on public health grounds “without delay”. He told MPs: “As part of local discussions … local authorities including the LGA [Local Government Association] have asked for stronger enforcement powers, and I agree.”

Tier one – medium

  • The “rule of six” applies, meaning socialising in groups larger than six people is prohibited whether indoors or outdoors.

  • Tradespeople can continue to go into a household for work and are not counted as being part of the six-person limit.

  • Businesses and venues can continue to operate but pubs and restaurants must ensure customers only consume food and drink while seated, and close between 10pm and 5am.

  • Takeaway food can continue to be sold after 10pm if ordered by phone or online.

  • Schools and universities remain open.

  • Places of worship remain open but people must not mingle in a group of more than six.

  • Weddings and funerals can go ahead with restrictions on the number of people who can attend (15 and 30 respectively).

  • Exercise classes and organised sport can continue to take place outdoors, and – if the rule of six is followed – indoors.

Tier two – high

  • People are prohibited from socialising with anybody outside their household or support bubble in any indoor setting.

  • Tradespeople can continue to go into a household for work.

  • The rule of six continues to apply for socialising outdoors, for instance in a garden or public space like a park or beach.

  • Businesses and venues can continue to operate but pubs and restaurants must ensure customers only consume food and drink while seated, and close between 10pm and 5am.

  • Takeaway food can continue to be sold after 10pm if ordered online or by phone.

  • Schools and universities remain open.

  • Places of worship remain open but people must not mingle in a group of more than six.

  • Weddings and funerals can go ahead with restrictions on the number of people who can attend (15 and 30 respectively).

  • Exercise classes and organised sport can continue to take place outdoors but will only be permitted indoors if it is possible for people to avoid mixing with those they do not live with (or share a support bubble with), or for youth or disability sport.

  • Travel is permitted to amenities that are open, for work or to access education, but people are advised to reduce the number of journeys where possible.

Tier three – very high

  • People are prohibited from socialising with anybody they do not live with, or have not formed a support bubble with, in any indoor setting, private garden or at most outdoor hospitality venues and ticketed events.

  • Tradespeople can continue to go into a household for work.

  • The rule of six continues to apply to outdoor public spaces, such as parks, beaches, public gardens or sports venues.

  • Pubs and bars are only permitted to remain open to operate as restaurants, in which case alcohol can only be served as part of a substantial meal.

  • Schools and universities remain open.

  • Places of worship remain open but household mixing is not permitted.

  • Weddings and funerals can go ahead with restrictions on the number of people attending (15 and 30 respectively) but wedding receptions are not allowed.

  • The rules for exercise classes and organised sport are the same as in tier 2. They can continue to take place outdoors but will only be permitted indoors if it is possible for people to avoid mixing with people they do not live with (or share a support bubble with), or for youth or disability sport. However, in Merseyside, gyms were ordered to close when it entered tier 3.

  • Travelling outside a very high alert level area or entering a very high alert level area should be avoided other than for things such as work, education or youth services, to meet caring responsibilities or if travelling through as part of a longer journey.

  • Residents of a tier 3 area should avoid staying overnight in another part of the UK, while people who live in a tier 1 or tier 2 area should avoid staying overnight in a very high alert level area.

He added: “The proposals that we’ll bring forward will mean councils will be able to act without delay and use closure notices to shut premises on public health grounds to help suppress the virus. We’ll work with local authorities in the coming days on the details of these proposals so we can act in a firm and fast way against the minority who are breaching these lifesaving rules.”

Hancock said the daily Covid-19 testing capacity was now more than 370,000. “I’m delighted to be able to tell the house that yesterday we began the rollout of lateral flow tests to schools and universities,” he said. “Lateral flow tests don’t require a lab or a machine – the kit gives you the result within minutes. We’ve successfully purchased many millions of these tests and they’ll allow us both to find the virus where it spreads and to reduce the disruption that virus control measures inevitably create.”

The tests will be introduced to councils from Thursday, starting with Stoke-on-Trent.