Separate households have been banned from meeting indoors in Greater Manchester, east Lancashire and parts of West Yorkshire, as the government last night slammed the brakes on lockdown relaxations due to a sharp spike in cases.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said the fresh wave of infections was “largely due to households meeting and not abiding to social distancing”.
“We take this action with a heavy heart, but we can see increasing rates of Covid across Europe and are determined to do whatever is necessary to keep people safe.”
The new rules will bar people from meeting indoors with other households, including going to homes, gardens and hospitality venues.
Individual households will still be able to meet at pubs and restaurants, but not mix with other households.
The government is set to ink legislation to make the rules legally enforceable, handing local authorities and police powers to ensure the restrictions are followed.
It marks the first time lockdown restrictions are set to be imposed over a large geographic area in the UK, covering millions of homes across the North.
The government acknowledged the restrictions would “come as a blow” to Muslim communities preparing to celebrate Eid this weekend, although places of worship remain open subject to social distancing rules.
The new measures were announced with just two hours notice at 9pm last night, after a meeting between Hancock and local leaders. They will be reviewed on a weekly basis.
The last-minute announcement was met with stiff criticism from ministers.
Labour leader Keir Starmer slammed the move, saying that announcing the lockdown measures “late at night on Twitter” was “a new low for the government’s communications during this crisis”.
He added: “When the government ended the daily press conferences, they said they would hold them for ‘significant announcements’, including local lockdowns. It’s hard to imagine what could be more significant than this.”
William Wragg, MP for Hazel Grove in Stockport, tweeted that Greater Manchester was “not one homogeneous area” and treating all 10 boroughs the same was “not the right approach”.
Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester said he agreed with the swift decision after seeing a “marked change in the picture” with regard to the rapid spread of coronavirus in the northern region.
“We have gone from a falling rate of cases in nearly all of our boroughs last week to a rising rate in nine out of 10 affecting communities across a much wider geography,” he said. “In Rochdale, the one borough where cases have fallen, they are still too high.”