The UK government has raised its coronavirus alert level from three to four, which indicates that the transmission of the virus is high and rising "exponentially". Downing Street on Monday said new curbs on the hospitality section will come in force across England from Thursday, imposing a 10pm closing deadline for all pubs, bars and restaurants as part of plans to control crowds.
There will also be a table service only stipulation for all such venues as part of the new restrictions, which will be formally tabled in the House of Commons on Tuesday by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Earlier, the Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) of all four regions of the United Kingdom England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales issued a joint statement to confirm the change in the alert level for all parts of the UK as the prospect of a second nationwide lockdown looks imminent.
The Joint Biosecurity Centre has recommended that the COVID-19 alert level should move from Level 3 (a COVID-19 epidemic is in general circulation) to Level 4 (a COVID-19 epidemic is in general circulation; transmission is high or rising exponentially), the CMOs said.
After a period of lower COVID-19 cases and deaths, the number of cases are now rising rapidly and probably exponentially in significant parts of all four nations. If we are to avoid significant excess deaths and exceptional pressure in the NHS [National Health Service] and other health services over the autumn and winter everyone has to follow the social distancing guidance, wear face coverings correctly and wash their hands regularly, they said.
We know this will be a concerning news for many people; please follow the rules, look after each other and together we will get through this, they added. The statement came hours after England CMO Chris Whitty addressed a Downing Street briefing earlier on Monday to present charts and data that showed that the UK is in the grips of a second wave of the pandemic, with infections roughly doubling every seven days.
He warned that unless additional restrictions are imposed on people's movements and mingling, this spike could continue to multiply. At present, most parts of northern England are already under stricter localised lockdown, with other regions coming under a similar ambit from Tuesday.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons that childcare would be exempt from these stricter rules on households and hospitality establishments required to follow various stipulations. I'm able to announce a new exemption for looking after children under the age of 14 or vulnerable adults where that is necessary for caring purposes. This covers both formal and informal arrangements. It does not allow for play-dates or parties, but it does mean that a consistent childcare relationship that is vital for somebody to get to work is allowed, he said.
"I hope this change will provide clarity and comfort to many people who are living with these local restrictions," the minister added. Wider nation-wide restrictions being considered by the government include a short two-week lockdown that would see additional rules around household interactions and restrictions on the hospitality and leisure sectors, but not involve school closures.
Described as a "circuit break", the aim would be to impose tighter restrictions across England to curb the chain of transmission before it accelerates further. On Sunday, 3,899 daily cases took the overall positive coronavirus cases to 394,257. A further 18 people died within 28 days of testing positive for coronavirus, bringing the UK death toll from the virus to 41,777.