UK Government Mulling Fresh Restrictions Amid Virus Spike

LONDON (AP) -- The British government is mulling fresh restrictions on everyday life in England amid mounting fears that hospitals in some parts of the country may soon be overwhelmed by growing numbers of patients laid low by the coronavirus.

With the number of people needing to go to the hospital with virus-related conditions rising, and in some areas in the north of England alarmingly so, the pressure on the government to do more is mounting.

“We are currently considering what steps we should take, obviously taking the advice of our scientific and medical advisers, and a decision will be made shortly,” British Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told the BBC on Thursday.

“In some parts of the country, the number of cases are rising very fast and we are taking that very seriously,” he added.

The hospitality industry in the north of England is widely thought to be the sector most likely to see additional restrictions, potentially involving closures, akin to those announced on Wednesday in Scotland. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon ordered pubs in Scotland's two biggest cities, Glasgow and Edinburgh, to close and restricted food and drink business in the rest of the country.

As elsewhere in Europe, restrictions have been reimposed in the U.K., which has witnessed the continent's deadliest virus outbreak, with an official death toll of 42,515.

The spike had been widely predicted in the wake of the reopening of the hospitality sector, shops and places of learning.

In many areas of northern England, national measures, such as the closure of pubs and restaurants at 10 p.m. have been augmented by tighter local actions, such as banning contact between households.

However, there is growing evidence to show that those areas that have seen additional restrictions have not experienced a slowdown in the epidemic. In some areas, the number of new infections is 10 times higher than when the localized restrictions were announced.

Many local leaders are aghast at what they say has been a lack of communication from the Conservative government over further measures that may be in the offing.

Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, one of the areas suffering the sharpest waves of the virus, said in a tweet: “No discussion. No consultation. Millions of lives affected by Whitehall diktat. It is proving impossible to deal with this Government.”

The daily figures provided by the government clearly show the numbers heading in the wrong direction, from new infections through to deaths.

The latest figures on Wednesday showed another 14,162 cases, which is double the amount that was being reported the previous week. The number of people being hospitalized increased by 508 and the daily death toll rose by 70. But behind the national numbers lurk huge regional variations, which has led to calls for more concerted local actions to be taken.

The enforced closure of businesses will undoubtedly cause further economic damage to hotspot areas, and unions are demanding that the government accompanies any lockdown changes with a financial support package to prevent mass unemployment.

The umbrella Trades Union Congress is urging the government to announce local job retention programs, whereby it steps in to pay the lion's share of the salaries of those workers who have been forced to go idle. A national program that has helped keep a lid on unemployment in the country is due to end at the end of October.

“In areas facing high infection rates and further business closures, the government must act to preserve jobs and stop family firms going to the wall through a new local furlough scheme," the TUC's general secretary, Frances O'Grady, said.