Pubs and restaurants could shut across parts of England within days as the Government prepares a tightening up of coronavirus restrictions, it is reported.
Millions of people in north could face tough new measures from next week, amid fears that hospitals could be overwhelmed if action is not taken to curb the spike in Covid-19 infections.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has held talks with local leaders in the North West who are expecting restrictions imminently, according to The Times.
The paper claimed the Treasury was drawing up a compensation package for businesses forced to close as part of the clampdown.
However, these may not be ready in time for the new restrictions which could be introduced as early as Monday.
Downing Street and the Department of Health and Social Care both declined to comment on the reports.
The move, if confirmed, would however be another body blow for the hard-pressed hospitality industry in the regions already reeling from the imposition of the controversial 10pm curfew.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak is finalising a package of financial support for the sector, the Financial Times reported, amid fears of a fresh wave of job losses.
It comes as Nicola Sturgeon announced strict new rules for central Scotland, which will see the area’s hospitality sector largely shut down for 16 days.
Cases are continuing to surge across the UK, with confirmed infections rising by 14,162 on Wednesday and a further 70 deaths recorded.
Downing Street has indicated that it is ready to implement further restrictions in England if necessary, saying: “We are seeing coronavirus cases rising across the country but they are rising faster in the North East and the North West and that is concerning.
“We will not hesitate to take further action in the areas where cases and hospitalisations are rising significantly in order to protect communities, protect the NHS and to save lives.”
A new three-tier system could be introduced for local lockdowns, offering more funding to support harder-hit areas, according to the BBC.
Boris Johnson could set out the categories – reportedly nicknamed the “rule of three” – at the start of next week.
Tier one would cover current social distancing measures and the so-called “rule of six”, The Sun claimed.
Areas in tier two would see a ban on households mixing, and tier three areas – the worst hit – would see hospitality venues temporarily shut down.
A memo seen by the BBC also suggests local authorities placed into tiers two or three would receive additional funds to help support affected residents and businesses.
They would get £1 per head of population if placed into tier two and £2 per head for tier three, according to the corporation.
In England, Nottinghamshire looks set to be the latest area to face new restrictions following a surge in infections.
The prospect of new measures comes amid growing unrest over the existing controls – including among Conservative MPs.
Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Johnson and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer clashed over localised restrictions at Prime Minister’s Questions.
Sir Keir questioned why constituencies including the PM’s in west London were spared extra curbs while northern seats with lower levels of coronavirus were hit with harsh measures.
“The Prime Minister can’t explain why an area goes into restrictions, he can’t explain what the different restrictions are, and he can’t explain how restrictions end,” Sir Keir said.
“This is getting ridiculous.”
But Mr Johnson insisted the Government would “continue with our package to suppress the virus not just nationally but locally and regionally as well”.
However, the recent surge in cases has led to warnings from leaders of northern cities that local restrictions are failing.
The leaders of Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle city councils – Judith Blake, Sir Richard Leese and Nick Forbes – joined Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson in writing to the Health Secretary to say they are “extremely concerned” about the rise in cases.
“The existing restrictions are not working, confusing for the public and some, like the 10pm rule, are counterproductive,” the Labour politicians wrote.
They called for additional powers to punish those who break rules, for new restrictions to be developed by police, council and public health experts, and for a locally controlled test and trace system.
“We want to be clear, however, that we do not support further economic lockdowns,” the leaders added.
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