England will end a nationwide COVID-19 lockdown on December 2 and move to tighter tiered regional restrictions than before, with more areas facing severe constraints to prevent the virus from reigniting, said Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office.
Johnson ordered England a month-long lockdown in early November after cases of infection and deaths started to rise again, angering businesses and some members of his own political party over the economic consequences.
The second wave of infections has started to flatten, official data shows, but science advisers are expected to warn on Monday that previous regional restrictions had not gone far enough and that stricter measures are needed to prevent another national lockdown.
“The Prime Minister and his scientific advisers are convinced that the virus is still present – and without regional restrictions. It could quickly get out of control before vaccines and mass tests have had an effect,” said a spokesperson.
“This would jeopardize the progress made by the country, and risk once again intolerable pressure on the NHS (National Health Service).”
Britain suffered the worst toll in Europe and the deepest economic contraction of any G7 country, prompting strong criticism of Johnson’s handling of the pandemic.
Before the last lockdown, England had been placed on three levels, with the toughest measures imposed in the north of England, where movement was limited and pubs were forced to close unless they sold substantial meals.
Johnson’s office said the Prime Minister will establish a new COVID winter plan on Monday, with more areas placed under the higher restrictions of the tiered system.
He will discuss it with his cabinet of senior ministers on Sunday and present it to parliament on Monday. The plan will also include details of interactions over Christmas.
Ministers will announce which areas will be placed in which tier on Thursday, with lawmakers in a position to vote on the system before it goes into effect. The levels will be reviewed.
The move is likely to meet stiff resistance from some lawmakers who say the country cannot afford to close shops and hospitality again after unemployment and debt rise and production economy fell 20% in the second quarter.
The government has argued that the virus will overwhelm hospitals and cripple the economy if left unchecked.
The opposition Labor Party said a package of support would be needed for any business to close.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also subject to varying levels of restrictions, set by their local governments.