One in five people in the UK are to be subject to some form of local lockdown after the government introduced new measures to control the spread of coronavirus in parts of the north-west and Yorkshire.
The step will bring the total number of people living in an area subject to some form of additional restrictions to 13.5 million, according to Guardian analysis.
New rules, which will come into force on Tuesday, will prohibit millions in Lancashire, Merseyside, and parts of West Yorkshire, the West Midlands and Cheshire, from socialising with those outside of their support bubble in private homes and gardens. Leisure and entertainment venues will be closed between 10pm and 5am to try and tackle rising coronavirus cases.
People in affected areas have been told to only use public transport for essential purposes, such as travelling to school or work, and to avoid attending amateur or semi-professional sports events as spectators. Residents should also take holidays only with people in their own household or support bubble.
The stricter measures will apply to the 1.4 million residents of Merseyside, including the city of Liverpool, 1.1 million people living in the Lancashire county council area, and 1.2 million in Bradford, Kirklees and Calderdale in West Yorkshire.
Local politicians were told of the measures by the government during a meeting on Thursday, as new restrictions were introduced in the north-east of England.
The health and social care secretary, Matt Hancock, said on Friday that local leaders had urged the government to bring in stronger restrictions to protect the public. “We are acting decisively to support them,” he said.
“I know these restrictions will make everyday life harder for many, but I know that residents will work together and respect the rules so we can reduce rates of transmission.
“I urge local people to isolate and get a test if you have symptoms, follow the advice of NHS test and trace, and always remember ‘hands, face, space’. By sticking to these steps, we will get through this together.”
Nearly 10 million people across the UK are currently living under local restrictions, with measures in place in parts of Scotland, south Wales, the north-west and north-east of England, Yorkshire and the Midlands.
In Liverpool, the council asked residents to start following new measures immediately and have a “safe and careful weekend”. Mayor Joe Anderson said: “We have warned for several weeks now that tougher restrictions would be on the way unless we started to see the number of infections coming under control.”
The Labour MP for Preston in Lancashire, Mark Hendrick, said that although he thought the new measures would come as an “extra blow” to people in the city, they were necessary.
“We’ve also got thousands of students coming back this week. With freshers’ week on the horizon, obviously there’ll be the temptation for many to celebrate,” he said.
“That’s going to bring thousands of students from other parts of the country to Preston. The worry is that without these measures that escalation could be even worse than it’s going to be.”
He added, however, that constantly changing the local measures was “like trying to shift sand in terms of the message we’re trying to get over”.
Dr Sakthi Karunanithi, Lancashire’s director of public health, said the state of emergency was declared in the area after daily cases began to double, from 75 cases on 6 September to 144 on 14 September.
In Lancashire, positive cases have mainly been among the 15-44 age group with concerns this could spill over into older and vulnerable groups. “The situation really is that stark. If we don’t act now we could be facing another [full] lockdown,” he said.
In a joint letter, a cross-party group of MPs and council leaders from across Lancashire urged the prime minister to increase funding to alleviate the issues with the test-and-trace system locally.
The letter, signed by the region’s four Labour MPs, Conservative MP Jake Berry and the 10 council leaders, said issues with the test-and-trace programme were severely hampering the ability to control the virus in the area, with Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Preston, Rossendale, Hyndburn, Pendle, Oldham and Bolton most at risk.
“As elected representatives across Lancashire, we cannot impress strongly enough upon you how important it is that local authorities have the resources and support they need to play their role in protecting public health,” the letter said. “What additional resources do you intend to provide to local authorities in order to allow them to target measures to reduce the infection rate?”