Matt Hancock has banned people from different households from meeting up indoors in parts of northern England as part of a tightening of lockdown measures.
Speaking on Thursday night, the Heath Secretary said the new measures affecting millions of people in Greater Manchester, parts of West Yorkshire and East Lancashire would come in at midnight.
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Indoor meetings banned in northern coronavirus hotspots as …
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He said he was taking the action with “a heavy heart” but increases in the rates of coronavirus in these areas had forced the Government to act.
In chaotic scenes, the shock ban on household visits was announced only hours before the new rules came in affecting some 4.5million people.
Indoor meetings banned in northern coronavirus hotspots as …
And official guidance was not published until late on Thursday night, leaving millions in the dark about what the changes mean.
Under the new rules people will be unable to mix in private homes but can still go to pubs and restaurants as long as they only go with members of their own household.
Gardens are also off-limits – but you can meet other households in parks and outdoor spaces.
And some exemptions are in place, including for the vulnerable.
If you live in one of the affected areas you must not socialise with people you do not live with in other indoor public venues – such as pubs, restaurants, cafes, shops, places of worship, community centres, leisure and entertainment venues, or visitor attractions, according to the Department of Health.
But you may attend these venues with people you live with – or are in a support bubble with – while avoiding interaction with others.
Mr Hancock made the shock announcement after lengthy meetings with local leaders on Thursday.
He told Sky News: “We have been looking at the data and unfortunately we’ve seen across parts of northern England an increase in the number of cases of coronavirus.”
“We’ve decided that we need to take action across Greater Manchester, East Lancashire and parts of West Yorkshire.
“So from midnight tonight, we are banning households meeting up indoors.
“We take this action with a heavy heart but unfortunately it is necessary to keep the country safe.”
The new restrictions apply to Greater Manchester, as well as a number of places in East Lancashire – Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Hyndburn, Pendle and Rossendale.
In West Yorkshire, Bradford, Kirklees and Calderdale are affected.
Police will be able to take action against those that break these rules, including asking people to disperse and issuing fixed penalty notices – starting at £100.
The latest guidance outlines what people in these areas can and can’t do, with locals still being encouraged to go to work.
People are bing told not to visit care homes and people from outside the lockdown are not allowed to visit people inside their properties.
In terms of outdoor socialising, residents can meet in public outdoor spaces in groups of no more than six people in line with national guidance.
The Department of Health says those affected may attend a mosque or other place or worship which are Covid secure but social distancing must be observed.
Despite the new restrictions, weddings and civil partnership ceremonies in the areas can still go ahead as long as there are no more than 30 guests, social distancing is in place and it is held in a Covid secure venue.
Leicester is also affected, which has been under a local lockdown since June 29.
But from Monday, the Midlands city’s pubs, bars, restaurants, cafes and hairdressers can get back to business but leisure centres, gyms and pools will remain closed.
In addition, cinemas and museums will open and religious ceremonies will be able to take place.
While all local restrictions currently in place in the neighbouring borough of Oadby and Wigston will end.
And on Saturday, Luton will be brought in line with the rest of the country after significant progress has been made in controlling the virus.
In Blackburn with Darwen and Bradford, indoor gyms, fitness studios, pools and sports facilities must remain closed.
Mr Hancock said increase in coronavirus cases had been partly sparked by people meeting up indoors and “not abiding by the social distancing rules”.
He said: “We are having to bring in firm action and say that two households cannot meet indoors because that way we can help to stop the spread of the virus.
“We’ve got to bring this in straightaway because we could see those numbers increasing and we need to keep control of this virus.”
Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, said there had been a “marked change in the picture” in recent days regarding the spread of coronavirus.
He said: “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 ten affecting communities across a much wider geography. In Rochdale, the one borough where cases have fallen, they are still too high.
“We have always said that we will remain vigilant and be ready to respond quickly should the need arise.
“In line with that approach, I have agreed with the Health Secretary that it is right to act on the precautionary principle and introduce modest measures now to bring down the rate of new infections.”
He appealed to residents to follow the rules, urging people to not “act selfishly” and to keep the health of others in mind.
Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy tweeted: “Told tonight this applies to homes AND gardens but you can still visit public spaces where social distancing measures are in place.
“People will have a lot of questions and we are pressing for more information quickly. It is really hard but please follow advice and stay safe.”