Coronavirus: North-east England Covid-19 restrictions start

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New restrictions aimed at halting the rise in coronavirus cases in north-east England have come into force, affecting almost two million people.

The temporary measures, which started at midnight, are to tackle "concerning rates of infection" in the region.

The rules affect Newcastle, Gateshead, Sunderland, Northumberland, South Tyneside, North Tyneside and the County Durham council area.

Pubs and restaurants must shut early and household-mixing has been limited.

Responding to the rise in infections, Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes said: "The evidence we've found from local testing is that it's spreading in three main areas - in pubs, in people's homes and in grassroots sports."

Meanwhile, new rules banning separate households from meeting each other at home or in private gardens have been introduced in Lancashire, Merseyside, parts of the Midlands and West Yorkshire.

The measures, due to take effect from Tuesday, will also mean shorter opening hours for pubs and restaurants in parts of Lancashire and Merseyside.

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Image caption,
Northumberland, Newcastle, Sunderland, North and South Tyneside, Gateshead and County Durham council areas are affected

The new measures for north-east England include:

  • Meeting people outside your household or support bubble in private homes and gardens is banned (exemptions include attending a birth, visiting someone who is dying, work, education, registered childcare, emergencies or care issues, moving house and child contact arrangements)
  • People are advised not to socialise outside their household in public venues
  • Residents should only use public transport for essential purposes, such as going to school or work
  • Pubs, restaurants, cafes must be table service only and all leisure venues must shut at 22:00
  • Holidays are permitted but only with members of your household or support bubble
  • Travel outside the area is permitted but visiting another home or garden is not
  • People are advised not to attend amateur or professional sporting events as a spectator
  • Schools, colleges and universities remain open
  • Care homes are closed to non-essential visitors except in end-of-life circumstances
  • There are no local changes to funerals, weddings or religious ceremonies

It had been hoped that grandparents helping with childcare would be excluded from the restrictions - but they are not.

Mr Forbes tweeted that Newcastle City Council had "specifically" asked for this to be allowed.

Northumbria Police said it would provide a "proportionate response" to reports the rules being broken, and would assess the situation to determine the most appropriate course of action.

A spokesman said: "We will look to engage with people in the first instance, explaining the restrictions and encouraging them to follow the regulations.

"However, where necessary, we will take enforcement action."

Media caption,
'These decisions have a real impact': Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirms local lockdown in north-east England.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Thursday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "The data says that we must act now."

He said Sunderland currently had an infection rate of 103 cases per 100,000 people. In South Tyneside and Gateshead the latest published rates were 93.4 and 83.6 respectively.

Concern has been raised about increased waiting times for coronavirus test results for people using community testing centres.

In Sunderland, drivers queued outside a Covid test centre, only to later find out it was empty.

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Image caption,
Councils have requested additional funding to police the local lockdown

Council leaders have also requested additional funding for policing, as well as extra testing facilities.

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth echoed the need for more testing capacity to be available in areas where there were tightened restrictions.

He said it was urgent the government "fixes testing, fixes tracing" or we face a "very bleak winter indeed".

County Durham's director of public health Amanda Healy said: "If we do want to be able to continue to go to work, to schools, to keep in contact with relatives but stop an increase in the cases we have seen, we are really urging people to adhere to the guidance coming out today."

Gateshead Council leader Martin Gannon said: "Nobody welcomes these things but I would think the vast majority of people recognise these are extremely difficult times and we all need to act and pull together."

Small businesses broadly welcomed the lockdown but called for more support to adapt to the new measures.

Simon Hanson, North East development manager for the Federation of Small Businesses, said it was "absolutely critical" that small and micro businesses were given grant support quickly to help them adapt and provide cashflow.

It is estimated than 10 million people in the UK currently face additional coronavirus restrictions, with local lockdowns covering parts of Scotland, south Wales, the north west and north east of England, Yorkshire and the Midlands.

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