Ministers have admitted the spread of coronavirus in hotspot areas is ‘getting out of control’ as Tory MPs warned against imposing ‘Hotel California’ local lockdowns which never end.
Boris Johnson is expected on Monday to formally unveil plans to split the country into three tiers, with the worst hit areas placed in the top tier and told to close pubs and restaurants to slow the spread of the disease.
Pressure on the Government to take tough action is growing after infection rates continued to spike, with the north of England particularly badly affected.
Some 609 coronavirus patients were admitted to hospital yesterday – an increase of a fifth in a day – and a further 17,540 cases and 77 deaths were reported.
Skills Minister Gillian Keegan told the BBC’s Question Time programme last night that two thirds of hospitalisations are happening in the North West and North East of England, as well as in Yorkshire.
She said: ‘This is serious, it is getting out of control and we have to do something to bring it back under control.’
Her stark admission came amid reports that experts on the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) fear Mr Johnson’s planned tier system does not go far enough.
According to the Guardian members of SAGE believe the planned closure of pubs and restaurants in hotspot areas will not be sufficient to get the virus under control and avoid a second wave.
Some believe ministers should have pulled the trigger on a nationwide ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown in England two or three weeks ago when it was first discussed.
Scrutiny of the PM’s plans has only increased after Nicola Sturgeon yesterday imposed a two-week alcohol ban inside pubs and restaurants across Scotland, while closing bars entirely in coronavirus hotspots.
The prospect of new draconian rules being imposed across England has sparked a Tory backlash, with MPs demanding the Government set out in detail how areas subject to the tightest restrictions will be able to get them lifted.
Jake Berry, the former Northern Powerhouse minister, told the Telegraph: ‘Crucially, they need to show not just how you go into a tier but how you leave a tier because no one wants to be caught in a ‘Hotel California lockdown’ with all the damage that will cause the local economy.’
There is also a growing revolt among northern political leaders as Andy Burnham, the Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester, promised to challenge new rules ‘in any way I can’ if the Government closes businesses ‘without providing proper compensation’.
Mr Johnson is said to be holding meetings in Downing Street today to hammer out the final details of his plans.
It came as Chancellor Rishi Sunak prepares to announce a new local furlough scheme to prop up jobs in lockdown areas and as ministers lashed out at Mr Johnson’s plans being leaked to the press four days before they are due to be announced.
Business minister Nadhim Zahawi said such leaks are ‘corrosive’ and result in ‘confusion’ as he insisted the ‘right thing to do is to wait for the decision’.
Meanwhile, it emerged overnight that hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Britons may need to shield indoors for months, with fresh coronavirus curbs likely to last until at least April to stop the NHS from collapsing.
It is thought advice for clinically at-risk people to avoid contact with others could be included in the top tier of the PM’s ‘traffic light’ local lockdown system.
Skills Minister Gillian Keegan said last night that the spread of coronavirus in hotspot areas in England is ‘getting out of control’
Hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Britons may need to shield indoors for months and measures to curb coronavirus will be likely until at least April to stop the NHS from imploding as winter looms
England’s deputy chief medical officer, Jenny Harries, is said to be leading work on a ‘tailored shielding’ scheme to replace blanket rules with personalised advice depending on an individual’s vulnerability. An announcement from Boris Johnson’s government is expected imminently (Mr Johnson seen in Downing Street yesterday).
UK economy grew by just 2.1 per cent in August as recovery stalls
The UK economy grew by just 2.1 per cent in August as the recovery from the coronavirus crisis stalled despite Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme.
Data published this morning by the Office for National Statistics showed that the rate of growth was much lower than the 4.6 per cent which analysts were expecting.
The 2.1 per cent figure is also massively down on the 6.4 per cent expansion recorded in July.
The numbers are likely to fuel fears that a V-shaped economic bounce back from the damage done by the pandemic is now slowing ahead of further uncertainty in the coming winter months.
The data represents a hammer blow to the Chancellor after his initiative to get more people back into restaurants and pubs by paying for half of their meals throughout August proved not to be enough to sustain the overall growth seen in July.
The ONS’s deputy national statistician for economic statistics Jonathan Athow said: ‘The economy continued to recover in August but by less than in recent months.
‘There was strong growth in restaurants and accommodation due to the easing of lockdown rules, the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, and people choosing summer staycations. However, many other parts of the service sector recorded muted growth.
‘Construction also continued its recovery, with a significant boost from housebuilding. There was limited growth in manufacturing, which remains down on its pre-pandemic level, with car and aircraft production still much lower than the start of the year.’
August represented the fourth consecutive month of economic growth after the British economy was hammered by lockdown.
However, the 2.1 per cent was less than half of the 4.6 per cent which had been expected by analysts, according to a consensus taken by Pantheon Macroeconomics.
In July, the UK’s gross domestic product (GDP) was up by 6.4 per cent, and in June it rose by 9.1 per cent.
The British Chambers of Commerce said the growth figure for August suggested the UK economic recovery could be ‘running out of steam’.
The furore over the Government’s coronavirus strategy came as:
- Office for National Statistics data showed the UK economy grew by just 2.1 per cent in August, much lower than analysts had predicted and far below the 6.4 per cent expansion recored in July.
- Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds claimed the Chancellor’s Jobs Support Scheme is ‘forcing businesses to flip a coin over who stays and who goes’ because it is cheaper to employ one worker than two to do the same hours.
- Mr Zahawi confirmed evidence presented to MPs showed 30 per cent of coronavirus infections are coming through hospitality.
- Former Tory Treasury minister Lord O’Neill called for ‘true devolution’ to improve the coronavirus response and for a ‘tailored’ version of the furlough scheme.
- Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, writing in the Daily Telegraph, said the Government had ‘lost control of the virus’ and urged ministers to ‘get a grip’.
According to The Times, a decision on shielding has not yet been finalised and there are fears such a measure would be damaging to the mental health of people who would be forced to spend months at home alone.
England’s deputy chief medical officer, Jenny Harries, is said to be leading work on a ‘tailored shielding’ scheme to replace blanket rules with personalised advice depending on an individual’s vulnerability.
It comes as chief medical officer Chris Whitty said lockdown measures could be needed for another six months amid fears the numbers of people in intensive care could exceed the April peak in the north of England by the start of next month.
And leading doctor Katherine Henderson, the head of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, warned the NHS could implode this winter if ‘effective precautions’ are not taken.
At the start of the coronavirus lockdown in March, 2.2million people were judged to be ‘extremely vulnerable’ because of health problems and were told to stay at home and avoid all contact with others.
Studies then found that depression and anxiety were far more common in those who were shielding compared to those who weren’t.
Vulnerable people were also more worried about getting food and other essentials.
A Whitehall source told The Times that a new, more personalised approach is planned.
‘The intention is not to bring back the same programme but to be more targeted in the measures and what you ask people to do,’ they said.
‘It is a big ask to lock people away to cocoon over what could be a long winter.’
People could instead be told to take personal precautions, such as avoiding shopping at busy times.
An algorithm developed by Oxford University could be used to decide who needs to take the strictest precautions.
And in a presentation to more than 130 MPs, Professor Whitty said new vaccines and treatments could be available in January but added the crisis would only ease in April.
He made the briefing as part of preparation for new lockdown measures set to be imposed on Monday.
Professor Whitty said the number of people in intensive care in the north of England could be as high as 304 within 22 days. That would be two more than the original peak in April.
When asked how long restrictions would be in place, Professor Whitty said it could be for between five and six months ‘on and off’.
One MP told The Times, ‘He said things would really get better in April when the seasons were working in their favour. The message was ‘this isn’t going on for five years’.
Sir Graham Brady, who opposed the Government in the Parliamentary vote on the Rule of Six restrictions earlier this week, gave a warning about any new measures.
He said he hoped that any new measures would be ‘proportionate’ and supported by the ‘proper evidence.’
The influential MP added that if he Government wants to introduce further restrictions on the north and the Midlands, then it was ‘essential’ that Parliament be allowed to ‘approve or reject’ the plans.
Boris Johnson (pictured in Downing Street yesterday) is set to ignore critics and impose Tier Three restrictions – the highest level of a new alert system – in Covid-hit areas of the north
Two-thirds of public would back Scottish-style ‘circuit breaker’ nationwide lockdown
An exclusive poll for MailOnline by Redfield & Wilton Strategies has found strong support for a nationwide ‘short sharp shock’ of tough restrictions across the country in a bid to break transmission chains
Nearly two-thirds of the public would back a Scottish-style ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown as Boris Johnson prepares to shut pubs and restaurants in the North.
An exclusive poll for MailOnline has found strong support for a ‘short sharp shock’ of tough restrictions across the country in a bid to break transmission chains.
The research by Redfield &Wilton Strategies also uncovered widespread confusion and disaffection with the current complex local curbs.
Around a third of Birtons are not confident they know the rules in their area, while half admit they have not been following them fully.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick came close yesterday to confirming the plans to close pubs and restaurants in hotspot areas.
‘It is correct to say the number of cases in the North West and the North East and a number of cities, particularly in the Midlands like Nottingham, are rising fast and that is a serious situation,’ he said.
‘We are currently considering what steps we should take, obviously taking the advice of our scientific and medical advisers, and a decision will be made shortly.
‘But I’m not able to give you right now exactly what is going to happen.’
Asked if there will be an announcement linked to the hospitality trade next week, Mr Jenrick said: ‘We are considering the evidence. In some parts of the country, the number of cases are rising very fast and we are taking that very seriously.
‘If we do have to take further steps, then obviously we will take very seriously how we can help and support those individual businesses.’
Dr Henderson said of the need to press ahead with lockdown measures, ‘If we do not take effective precautions, Covid will continue its explosion across the country, a devastating consequence of which could be the implosion of our NHS this winter.’
Mr Hancock echoed her concerns when he told the NHS Providers annual conference yesterday: ‘We are at a perilous moment in the course of this pandemic.
‘I am very worried about the growth in the number of cases, especially in the North West and the North East of England, parts of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and parts of Yorkshire.’
He added: ‘In parts of the country the situation is again becoming very serious.
‘Hospitalisations in the North West are doubling approximately every fortnight. They have risen by 57 per cent in just the last week alone.
‘Unfortunately we’re seeing hospitalisations in the over-60s rising sharply and the number of deaths from coronavirus also rising.’
Mr Hancock suggested that localised crackdowns will be a part of life until a working vaccine is found and can be rolled out on a mass scale.
He said: ‘We know from bitter experience that the more coronavirus spreads, the harder it is to do all the other vital work of the NHS too.’
He continued: ‘The message to the public must be that we all have a part to play to control this virus.
The above slide reveals that, according to Public Health England, 41 per cent of coronavirus infections in the UK have been linked to pubs, bars or restaurants
These graphs were also shown at the briefing. The suggest infections across all age groups are higher in the North of England than the rest of the country
Coronavirus cases are on the rise throughout much of Europe – thought Spain, previously the continent’s worst-hit country, has now started to see its infection rate fall
Official data also shows how the number of patients being admitted to ICU has remained stable over the past three weeks
Separate figures show how the number of patients dying of Covid-19 within 28 days of testing positive has risen sharply since June, while the same figure for 60 days hasn’t increased as much
Who Covid-19 kills: Most victims since June have been over the age of 80, followed by patients in their 70s, 60s and then 50s
A heat map shows which areas of England have suffered the most Covid-19 victims since June, with the North East, North West, Birmingham and parts of East London being badly affected. The data is based on patients who died within 28 days of testing positive
Statistics based on patients dying from Covid-19 within 60 days of testing positive shows most victims are in the North West
Separate data shows how the mortality rate varies across England. The mortality rate is how many Covid-19 patients have died since June for every 100,000 people living in each authority
Schools are driving most Covid-19 outbreaks, according to PHE data. Cases diagnosed among university students are also starting to rise
PHE data released today showed infected people were most often coming into contact with family they live with, followed by friends coming to visit them and then people in leisure settings — which include pubs and restaurants
PHE data shows how some areas of the North West have recorded more than 1,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people since June — the equivalent of 1 per cent of people testing positive
How rates of Covid-19 are increasing the most among people in their 20s, from every socioeconomic background (bottom left). They are rising most in the most deprived people in their 30s and children aged 10 to 16 (bottom right and top left) – but the opposite is true for people aged 17 to 19 (top right)
Data from PHE shows how Covid-19 infection rates are rising in different regions among different ethnicities
Separate data shows how infection rates are rising among different age groups in the different regions of England
‘Our strategy is simple – suppress the virus, supporting the economy, education and the NHS until a vaccine can make us safe.’
Mr Hancock said his ‘message to everyone in the NHS is that we can and we will get through this’.
‘Sadly, there will be more difficult times ahead but we will get through this together,’ he added.
His comments prompted accusations that he was trying to ‘bounce’ Mr Johnson into closing the hospitality sector in the North.
Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard, the chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges which represents the UK and Ireland’s 24 medical royal colleges, said that people need to strictly follow restrictions or the NHS could be ‘unable to cope’.
She told BBC Breakfast: ‘Given the recent dramatic spike in both the number of cases and hospital admissions it is clear that we could soon be back to where we were in April if we are not all extremely careful.’
Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), denied that scientists were imposing measures on Mr Johnson.
He said that a short sharp shock was needed to ‘stop the epidemic from getting out of control in the next few weeks or months and overwhelming the health service’.
‘We are not that far away from that. I hate to be gloomy, but in the North of England now we are not that far away from the health service being stretched,’ he told a Royal Society of Medicine webinar.
Prof Edmunds denied scientists were ‘holding a gun to the PM’s head’ on the restrictions. ‘It’s the virus holding a gun to the PM’s head,’ he said.
Leaked documents suggest the PM is poised to unveil a new three-tier system of lockdown measures designed to make the system easier to understand.
Areas with relatively low infection levels will be placed in tier one, where only national restrictions such as the rule of six and 10pm curfew will apply.
Tier two will also include bans on home visits and indoor socialising with other households.
Options for tier three include total closure of the hospitality sector, a ban on overnight stays outside the home and the closure of venues such as cinemas.
A Treasury source said the measures should be ‘as reticent as possible’.
Leaked Government slides claim 41% of under 30s with Covid in England caught it in a pub, bar or restaurant
At least 41 per cent of under 30s suffering from coronavirus in England caught the disease in a pub, bar or restaurant, leaked Government slides have claimed.
And a quarter of Covid-19 infections across all age groups have been linked to the hospitality venues.
The shocking figures are in stark contrast to official data from Public Health England, which suggests only four per cent of Covid-19 outbreaks are linked to the businesses.
Presented at a Public Health England press briefing, the slides – marked ‘official – sensitive’ – warned the North of England could have as many people in intensive care suffering from Covid-19 as it did in April – at the peak of the pandemic – within three weeks.
It warned that a further tightening of lockdown restrictions was needed to curb the current rise in infections. The meeting was led by Chris Whitty, Britain’s chief medical officer, and Ed Argar, a health minister.
The move is thought to signal the impending tightening of restrictions in the North of England and Nottinghamshire, although few details were offered on what this may involve.
But it is thought pubs, bars and restaurants will be shuttered to slow the wave of infections.
One MP who was at the briefing said: ‘The really scary thing for the North West and North East is that the projection is for there to be more people in intensive care within three weeks – 22 days actually – than there were in the first wave.
‘Even though the figures are being driven by the under-30s, Whitty and co are clearly very worried.’
ENGLAND: PHE data shows that hospitality businesses like pubs and restaurants accounted for only a small proportion of officially reported coronavirus outbreaks during August and September. Many more outbreaks – reports sent to Public Health England of two or more people falling ill and at least one of them testing Covid positive – have been linked to education settings and workplaces
Reports also emerged of a rift between Mr Hancock and Mr Sunak, with the Chancellor said to be furious that the Government is pressing ahead with its ‘traffic light system’ of restrictions proposed for 13 million people in the north of England.
Instead of introducing yet more complicated curbs, Mr Sunak’s view is that the Government should be plotting a clear path back to ‘normality’ to prevent further devastation to the economy.
The top tier in the new traffic light measures is expected to apply to Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle – three cities that have continued to see infection rises despite other restrictions.
Hospitality businesses are set to be shut under the new measures, likely to be confirmed Monday and imposed from Wednesday, but shops, offices and schools will stay open.
Ministers are still mulling the fate of hairdressers and leisure facilities – but Mr Sunak will bring forward a special furlough-style compensation scheme for workers and firms hammered by the curbs.
Conservative MPs and local leaders in the North have been venting fury about the government’s stance, with former minister Mr Berry accusing the premier of being ‘London-centric’ and enjoying his sweeping emergency powers ‘a little bit too much’.
Politicians in Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle and Sheffield raged at ‘diktats announced without notice’ and said ministers were treating the North like a ‘petri dish for experimentation’ while the South gets off lightly.
But health minister Nadine Dorries warned those telling the government not to impose further curbs that otherwise hospital admissions will be ‘at a critical stage’ in 10 days’ time.
The extent of anger among Tories – and crucially MPs from the ‘Red Wall’ of former Labour seats that delivered Mr Johnson his stunning majority in December – was on display last night as the Commons debated the local restrictions.
Rossendale and Darwen MP Mr Berry, who was Northern Powerhouse minister under Theresa May, said: ‘I think the Government has fallen into that fatal trap of making national decisions based on a London-centric view with London data.’
He raised concerns over liberties and freedoms adding: ‘Day by day we see those liberties and freedoms being given away back to the Government in the name of Covid.
‘I’m afraid that has to stop, because once we give these up they will not come back to us, the Government will not return them to us.’
He added: ‘The worst of society is the Government enjoying these new powers a little bit too much.
‘Police officers fining people for being in their front gardens, a bizarre ban on sunbathing on your own in public open spaces.’
Conservative MP for Crewe and Nantwhich Dr Kieran Mullan called for the Government to ‘work harder’ at proving its policies are evidence-based and effective.
Dehenna Davison, who took the Bishop Auckland constituency into Tory hands for the first time in history, highlighted the difficulties for a pub landlord who made his premises Covid-secure but has seen his takings fall dramatically.
Ms Davison said: ‘Last weekend he told me rather than his usual Saturday take of £5,000 to £6,000, he took only £128 all day – not even enough to cover his entire staffing bill.
‘Between the 10 o’clock curfew and the lack of households being able to meet, I’m really concerned these restrictions without additional financial support may have the overall impact of closing pubs not just for lockdown but for good.’
Liverpool’s Labour mayor Steve Rotheram told ITV’s GMB programme: ‘What we’ve seen is an ever-widening North-South divide in measures being taken.
‘Quite simply the North should not be a petri dish for experimentation by central government.’
Mr Burnham said: ‘No discussion. No consultation. Millions of lives affected by Whitehall diktat. It is proving impossible to deal with this Government.’
Department of Health data shows that the numbers of people in hospital in the North of England has hit around a third of the level it was at during the epidemic’s peak in April. Meanwhile, admissions are surging in those regions while the rate of increase is much slower in most other areas (illustrated in the graphs)