Some UK bars to close early amid rising COVID-19 infections

Britain has imposed tougher restrictions on people and businesses in parts of northeastern England as the nation attempts to stem the spread of COVID-19 before the colder winter months

LONDON — Britain imposed tougher restrictions Thursday on people and businesses in parts of northeastern England as the nation attempts to stem the spread of COVID-19 before the colder winter months.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons that the new measures would include a ban on residents socializing with people outside their own households, ordering leisure and entertainment venues to close from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. and restricting bars and restaurants to table service only.

He also promised 2.7 billion pounds ($3.5 billion) to support the National Health Service this winter.

The comments came after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that authorities will have to impose tougher measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 and “protect’’ the Christmas holidays. In a piece published in The Sun newspaper, he said that the only way to be certain the country can enjoy the winter holidays “is to be tough now.’’

“So if we can grip it now,” Johnson said, Britain can “stop the surge, arrest the spike, stop the second hump of the dromedary, flatten the second hump.”

Over the past three days, opposition lawmakers have criticized Johnson’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis and said his government lacked a cohesive plan to tackle a second wave of the pandemic. A shortage of testing capacity is a particular concern, with people around the country complaining they were unable to book appointments for tests or directed to testing centers far from their homes.

Widespread testing is seen as crucial to controlling the spread of the virus because it allows those who are infected to self-isolate while helping health officials to identify hot spots and to trace people who were potentially exposed.

Daily infection rates recently rose to levels not seen since late May, forcing the British government to impose limits on public gatherings.

Figures released late Wednesday showed 3,991 new confirmed cases during the previous 24 hours, up from 3,105 a day earlier.

Hancock said the government decided to impose tighter restrictions in northeastern England at the request of local officials.

“We agree with the local councils that we must follow the data…and the data says we must act now,” he said.

Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes said the controls are seen as “preventative” measures that will help avoid a full-scale lockdown.

Local leaders are concerned that the rise in infections is starting to affect older people who are more susceptible to the disease, Forbes told the BBC.

“Last week, 60% of the people that were being tested were between the ages of 18 and 30. That is now starting to reach into older age groups as well,” he said. “We know that when it starts to affect older people, that’s when you start to get the hospitalizations and, sadly, also the mortality, too.”

Local leaders elsewhere in the country are also demanding the government increase testing capacity to stave off a second wave of infections.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan called for action to counter “chaos and confusion.” He told London Assembly members that testing problems were “putting lives and livelihoods in jeopardy.”

“We’ve known for months now that come the autumn demand for testing would increase,” Khan said. “This crunch point should have been foreseen and then avoided. And unless the government massively ramps up testing capacity in London, we’ll be back to where we started: trying to halt the spread of the virus in the dark.”

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