Millions of people in northern England and Leicester will remain under tighter lockdown for a third week as coronavirus infection rates continue to climb sharply in some districts, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has announced.
The decision was taken by Matt Hancock, the health secretary, alongside regional leaders after cases continued to rise in most affected areas despite a fortnight of enhanced restrictions.
Across England as a whole, infection rates appear to have levelled off, with an estimated 3,800 new cases a day – broadly similar to the week before, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
One scientist described the situation across the country as “broadly reassuring”. Prof Tim Spector, of King’s College London, who is leading the work with the Covid-19 symptom study app, said of those findings: “The lowest rate we saw was in late June and rates increased slowly in July but now we have returned to those lower levels.”
Watch video below
In north-west England, the enhanced measures banning home visitors – and originally brought in with a few hours’ notice on 31 July – “help protect local residents, and allow more time for the changes to have an effect, cutting transmission among households”, the DHSC said.
They continue to affect residents in Greater Manchester; Calderdale, Kirklees and Bradford in West Yorkshire; Leicester; and the following areas of east Lancashire: Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Hyndburn, Pendle, Preston and Rossendale.
Casinos, skating rinks, bowling alleys, exhibition halls, conference centres and indoor play areas will not be permitted to open in these areas. Elsewhere in England they can open from Saturday.
People in the affected areas are not permitted to mix with other households (apart from those in their support bubble) within private homes or gardens. They can meet others in groups of up to six individuals, or two households, in outdoor public places.
Pools, indoor gyms and other leisure facilities as well as nail bars, spas and beauty salons will continue to remain closed in Bradford, Blackburn with Darwen, and Leicester.
Shielding will also continue for individuals in Blackburn with Darwen, and Leicester.
The latest data shows a continuing rise in cases in Oldham in Greater Manchester and Pendle in east Lancashire, while numbers remain high in Blackburn with Darwen. Local leaders are now setting up an enhanced incident team to try to bring infection rates under control, with support offered from the government, the DHSC said.
According to the government’s weekly surveillance report, rates in Pendle are the highest, with 89.7 cases per 100,000 people recorded between 3 and 9 August. Oldham is next, with 82.3 and then Blackburn with 77.9 – a drop on the previous week but still far too high.
Of the 20 local authorities subject to enhanced restrictions, infections have decreased in just six, week-on-week: Blackburn, Leicester, Calderdale, Manchester, Trafford and Rossendale.
Regardless of the downward trend in Calderdale, the situation in parts of Halifax also continues to cause concern, with the council warning residents that the situation is “very serious”.
Writing on her blog on Thursday, Calderdale’s director of public health, Debs Harkins, said infection rates in Calderdale were increasing faster than in any other borough in the Yorkshire and Humber region – particularly among key workers.
“Although we only have limited information about how and where people become infected, the data we do have indicates that we are seeing Covid-19 cases in people who have been working in essential roles right throughout the lockdown. These are the people who care for us, feed us, serve us and transport us. Since lockdown has eased, these are the people who are more likely to come into contact with Covid-19. These are the people who should be celebrated rather than blamed,” she wrote.
On Thursday there were concerns among officials in Oldham that the town might be locked down further by central government after case numbers continued to rise much faster than in the rest of the region. But the government has resisted calls from its own MPs to take a more hyperlocal approach to the crisis.
However, it kept the door open to varying the order – to tighten restrictions in some areas and lift them in others – saying: “As part of ensuring a proportionate yet robust response to the virus, where possible the government will remove individual areas from these measures while maintaining or even strengthening measures in others as necessary – just as has been done in other areas where local measures have been brought in, such as Leicestershire.”
The health minister Edward Argar said: “I’d like to thank everyone in Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, East Lancashire and Leicester for their continued patience in following these vital rules put in place to tackle the spread of the disease – I know it hasn’t been easy.
“We will review the measures again next week as part of our ongoing surveillance and monitoring of the latest data.
“It is essential we all remain vigilant, and I urge everyone in these areas to continue to follow the rules – wash your hands regularly, follow social distancing, get yourself a free test as soon as you get any symptoms, and isolate if NHS test and trace tells you to.”
The government must legally review the restrictions by 19 August but said it would keep “all local restrictions under constant consideration, including ahead of any formal reviews”.