England is expected to be carved into three different lockdown tiers next week, with millions of people facing tougher restrictions as the government tries to get a handle on rising coronavirus cases and hospital admissions.
Pubs and restaurants as well as leisure facilities are expected to be closed in parts of the North put into the strictest tier, according to two sources who have seen blueprints of the current plans.
Under the proposals, people living in the strictest tier – tier three – are also expected to be ordered not to have any social contact with anyone outside their household in any setting, according to one person familiar with the blueprints being drawn up by the government.
The strictest tier will also come with a financial compensation package for businesses forced to shut up shop.
A second source who has also seen the tiering proposals said tier two restrictions would be the same as those currently in the North East and Merseyside – no household mixing in homes or gardens, and no household mixing in hospitality settings.
Those in tier one will be the most light-touch tier, with the public expected to follow the rule of six and maintain social distancing.
Whitehall sources stressed that nothing has yet been signed off. “There’s still a lot of work to be done,” they told Sky News.
The government had planned to announce the new tiering system today, but decided instead to push it back to next week and implement it immediately across England amid growing alarm within government about the rising COVID-19 case numbers and increased hospital admissions.
“The numbers in the North are very alarming,” a Whitehall figure told Sky News.
“The worrying thing is the spread of the disease in certain parts of the country is looking like it is getting into the older population a bit more,” they added.
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Ministers are also worried about the pressure on hospitals as we approach winter.
It comes amid growing anger from local political leaders over the lack of consultation between Westminster and city Mayors, with the discussions on local lockdowns being held between officials rather than politicians.
Sheffield city region mayor Dan Jarvis said: “If we are going to see further lockdown restrictions introduced in the North, they must sit alongside additional support for our economy, to protect jobs, businesses and self-employed workers.
“Otherwise we risk seeing viable businesses disappear from our high streets, towns and cities. We also need a clear strategy of how we exit local restrictions and a sound plan to begin the task of economic recovery and renewal.”
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Health Secretary Matt Hancock briefed public health officials and local resilience teams on proposals on Wednesday afternoon, but political leaders were not included in that call.
“There’s no passage of information,” said one regional leader. “There are politics at play here.”