LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce new measures to tackle a growing coronavirus crisis on Monday, moving to work more closely with local leaders from England’s worst affected areas.
Northern England has been particularly hard hit by a new surge in coronavirus cases that has forced local lockdowns as students returned to schools and universities across Britain.
The mayor of Liverpool, Steve Rotherham, said on Sunday that the government wanted to put his city and surrounding area in the category subject to the toughest restrictions, adding that the measures that would apply there had not yet been agreed.
Sky News reported this could mean shutting bars, gyms, casinos and bookmakers. Rotherham said any announcement would need to include funds for businesses that were shut.
With Johnson reluctant to repeat a national lockdown that would further hurt a struggling economy, the government is trying to contain both a surge in cases and growing anger in hard hit areas.
England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam described Britain as being at a “tipping point”, saying the spread would soon translate into more deaths and that the country should act now.
Robert Jenrick, Britain’s housing minister, declined to detail the new measures but said they would focus on local areas.
“In addition to the basic simple rules that apply to the whole country, we are designing a framework for those places for where the virus is very strong,” Jenrick told Sky News.
After weeks in which tests were often unavailable across much of the country, Jenrick said local leaders would be more involved in contact tracing. There would also be more guidance on travel.
The government is expected to introduce a tier system to try to simplify the rules and the messaging, which opposition parties and some in the governing Conservative Party say has been too confusing and might have contributed to rising cases.
But with many in northern England having already lived with tightened restrictions for weeks, the government might have to do more to quell growing anger over any new measures.
Local leaders have complained for months that they were being left out of decision-making by what some called an overly centralised strategy. Some said there was still disagreement on the best way forward.
“We’ve certainly not agreed with them. I think there is probably a large gulf at the moment between us and the government,” Richard Leese, the leader of Manchester City Council, told Times Radio.
The opposition Labour party also urged the government to offer more financial support if businesses were told to close, and said it would work on an alternative package to one announced by finance minister Rishi Sunak on Friday.
“What we really want … is the government to come forward with a package of financial support that enables people to comply with the health restrictions,” Lisa Nandy, Labour’s foreign policy chief, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show.
(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Peter Graff)