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Priti Patel refuses to rule out second Covid lockdown for England

Simon Murphy, Josh Halliday and Niamh McIntyre
·5-min read
<span>Photograph: Adam Vaughan/REX/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Adam Vaughan/REX/Shutterstock

The home secretary, Priti Patel, has refused to rule out another national lockdown in England as more than 2.3 million people in West Yorkshire prepare to enter the strictest tier of restrictions on Monday.

Nearly 11 million people in England will be living under the most severe lockdown restrictions next week following the announcement that Leeds and West Yorkshire are to come under tier 3.

A further 21.6 million people will be under tier 2 restrictions after an earlier announcement that additional areas in the Midlands, parts of Yorkshire, Luton and Oxford are to move into tier 2.

With 58% of England’s population now certain to be under localised restrictions, Downing Street faces mounting pressure to implement tougher or countrywide measures amid concern that the patchwork approach is failing. Research warned on Thursday that the pandemic had reached a “critical” stage across the country.

Judith Blake, the leader of Leeds city council, announced that West Yorkshire would enter tier 3 from 12.01am on Monday after hospital admissions in parts of the region exceeded the peak of the first wave. She said: “This is a very difficult decision for us to take and we recognise the significant of the economic impact that it will have, but the virus is at a stage in which we need to take measures.”

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It means pubs and bars that do not serve meals will close along with casinos, soft play areas, adult gaming centres, betting shops and car boot sales for at least 28 days. The region accounts for 2.3 million people, in Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield, Calderdale and Kirklees. Local authorities will receive a combined total of £59.3m from the government, the same proportion per capita that other tier 3 areas have received.

According to the real estate adviser Altus Group, across West Yorkshire, 1,608 pubs and 53 wine bars will have to close unless they can operate as restaurants, while nine casinos and 176 betting shops will also have to close.

Susan Hinchcliffe, the leader of Bradford council, immediately criticised the economic support offered by the government, saying ministers were “seriously underestimating” the damaging impact of the restrictions on businesses and jobs.

“There is a ‘template’ of funding available from government to support these businesses but I do not think it will be enough. Neither were [the] government in the mood to give us more,” she said.

Earlier on Thursday Birmingham council’s leader warned that tier 3 was “inevitable” for the city’s population of 1.1 million, but not yet imminent.

A swathe of areas will move into tier 2, the government announced, meaning indoor social mixing between households is banned unless a support bubble has been formed.

They are the East Riding of Yorkshire, Kingston upon Hull, north-east Lincolnshire and north Lincolnshire, with Dudley, Staffordshire, Telford and the Wrekin in the West Midlands also moving up. They are joined by Amber Valley, Bolsover, Derbyshire Dales, Derby city, south Derbyshire, the whole of High Peak and Charnwood in the east Midlands, as well as Luton and Oxford city further south.

Related: Coronavirus: Oxford, Luton and parts of Yorkshire move to tier 2

Asked on Thursday whether she would rule out another national lockdown, Patel said: “Well, I think at this stage, of course we can rule nothing out because we are a government that is focused on making sure that we stop the spread of this virus, and also we protect public health. So we have been using, and we are using, and we will continue to use, every single means available to us to do exactly that.”

Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said she could not rule out a return to nationwide restrictions in the coming weeks.

It comes as France is set to enter a second national lockdown on Friday to curb a second wave that the president, Emmanuel Macron, warned “will be harder than the first”.

This week a leaked document produced by modellers on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said that under a “reasonable worst-case scenario”, 85,000 people across the UK could die in a second Covid wave, and 356,000 people could require hospital treatment.

No 10 has resisted new nationwide restrictions, with the Conservative party facing pressure from its MPs over the economic consequences. Labour has called for a time-limited “circuit-breaker” lockdown after it emerged that ministers ignored Sage advice in support of one in September.

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Ian Ward, the leader of Birmingham city council, said a move to tier 3 “would seem to be inevitable at some stage” given the rising infection rate and pressure on the region’s hospitals.

Andy Street, the Conservative mayor of the West Midlands, said that although tier 3 had not been confirmed, the region was in a “very serious” situation and the NHS was coming under “intense pressure”. He said: “This is not a sustainable situation and unless the rate of infection falls then we will have to take further action.”

In Nottinghamshire, where England’s strictest measures will come into force on Friday, the county’s director of public health, Jonathan Gribbin, said hospital admissions had surpassed the peak of the first wave.

The interim findings of the React-1 study from Imperial College London showed dramatic increases in infections across all areas, especially in the south, where the R number – the average number of people that one infected person will pass on the virus to – has risen above 2.

The communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, accepted that Covid rates were in a “bad place” all over the country but said the government would “continue with our localised but proportionate approach on taking action where the virus is strongest”.

The shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, said: “Boris Johnson should have used the school half-term to implement a time-limited circuit breaker to push infections down, fix test and trace and save lives.”