arly on Monday, leaders across the Liverpool City Region confirmed in a joint statement: "The government has decided that the following further measures and closures will apply to the Liverpool City Region. Pubs and bars; Betting Shops, Casinos, and Adult Gaming Centres and Gyms will close beginning Wednesday."
The decision is part of a new Tier system that Prime Minister Boris Johnson formally announced due to a resurgent coronavirus outbreak in the region.
The British government carved England into three tiers of coronavirus risk on Monday, putting the northern city of Liverpool into the highest-risk category and shutting its pubs, gyms, and betting shops.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the three-level national system was designed to “simplify and standardize” a confusing patchwork of local rules, as the country enters a “crucial phase.” Johnson said hospitals are now filling up with more COVID-19 patients than in March, when he ordered a national lockdown, the Associated Press reports.
"These figures are flashing at us like dashboard warnings in a passenger jet, and we must act now,” he said during a televised news conference.
Johnson told lawmakers that the goal of the new system was to save lives without “shuttering our lives and our society” through a new national lockdown. While the measures curb social interactions and the leisure industry, Johnson said shops, schools and universities will remain open in all areas.
Liverpool and Knowsley continue to be two of the worst affected areas of the country for infections, with case rates in both areas now over 600 per 100,000, the Liverpool Echo reports.
The measures could last for as long as six months, but with regular reviews that could see changes if things are improving - or if they are getting worse.
Some scientists questioned whether the restrictions went far enough. Minutes published Monday from meetings of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies showed the body recommended three weeks ago that the government consider stricter measures including a short “circuit-breaker” lockdown.
The government rejected the idea.
“I and other people who were advocating for quite stringent severe local interventions where necessary three to four weeks ago, our fear is that we’re in another place now,” said Calum Semple, professor of outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool and a member of the advisory committee.
After falling during the summer, coronavirus cases are rising in the U.K. as winter approaches, with northwest and northeast England seeing the steepest increases. Liverpool has one of the country’s most severe outbreaks, with about 600 cases per 100,000 people, even more than the hard-hit European cities of Madrid and Brussels.
Under the new measures, areas in England are classified at medium, high or very high risk, and placed under restrictions of varying severity.
Areas in the lowest tier will follow existing national restrictions, including a 10 p.m. curfew on pubs and restaurants and a ban on more than six people gathering. In areas at high risk, members of different households are barred from meeting indoors.
The “very high” risk tier will face restrictions including closing pubs — apart from those that serve meals — and, if local authorities want, other venues such as gyms and casinos.
Liverpool was the only area put into the top category Monday, but Johnson said authorities were still talking with other local leaders across the north of England.
Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson said local authorities supported tougher restrictions as long as they were accompanied by improved test-and-trace measures to suppress clusters of infections — something he said the government had agreed to.
“As well as protecting lives and doing things to tackle the virus, we also need to protect livelihoods, so we argued really strongly for a stronger financial package,” said Anderson, a member of the opposition Labour Party. “Unfortunately, that wasn’t listened to.”
The government has announced a support package to pay two-thirds of the salaries of employees of companies that are told to close, but many in the pub and restaurant sector say that is not enough to save already struggling businesses.
The U.K. has experienced Europe’s deadliest outbreak, with an official death toll of 42,875. Health officials say Britain is at a tipping point in the outbreak, with strong action needed to prevent hospitals being overwhelmed at a time when they are already at their busiest with flu and other winter illnesses.