LONDON (AP) — The British government carved England into three tiers of coronavirus risk on Monday in a bid to slow a resurgent outbreak, 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 standardise” 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.
“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.
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 UK 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.
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