© Provided by The GuardianPhotograph: Lee Smith/Reuters
Nearly 2 million people in north-east England will be banned from mixing with other families under the strictest measures imposed since England eased out of nationwide lockdown.
The restrictions, which will come into force at midnight on Thursday, will prohibit residents in seven council areas from meeting others inside or outside their homes and include a 10pm curfew on nightlife.
The rules will apply to people in Newcastle, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Gateshead, County Durham and Sunderland.
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The health secretary, Matt Hancock, announced the restrictions on Thursday following a sharp rise in coronavirus cases in the north-east and amid growing concern about a UK-wide rise in cases.
© ASSOCIATED PRESSBritish Health Secretary Matt Hancock walks from 10 Downing Street in London, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
A Guardian analysis shows the number of Covid infections has tripled in the seven affected areas in the past three weeks, far outstripping the rest of the UK.
The region of nearly 2 million people accounted for 15% of England's coronavirus cases in the week to 14 September, despite making up only 3% of the population.
While similarly strict measures have been introduced elsewhere in the UK, including parts of Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire and the West Midlands, it is the first time a 10pm curfew has been imposed on public venues in such a large area.
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Multiple sources said the north-east restrictions would include a ban on socialising with anyone outside their household, whether in a private home or garden, a public space such as a park, or in a venue such as a pub or restaurant. Pubs, bars and restaurants across the region will also be ordered to close at 10pm.
The move reflects growing concern in Whitehall at rising infections in the north-east, where South Tyneside, Gateshead and Sunderland all have infection rates almost three times the average for England.
However, Labour MPs representing north-east England seats called for further information from Hancock on the measures.
They requested "urgent clarification on a number of key issues" around interventions being planned in Sunderland, South Tyneside, Gateshead, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North Tyneside, Northumberland and County Durham.
The letter, signed by 15 Labour MPs, asked whether household-level information and contact-tracing data would be available to local authorities and what extra testing capacity would be put in to the region.
"We agree that restrictions must be put in place in order to protect public health, and prevent the further spread of Covid-19, and we support measures taken in order to save lives," the MPs said.
"We do, however, believe that this must be done in close collaboration with local authorities, who must have access to all appropriate information, data and support in order to make the best decisions for their areas."
The letter was sent by Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott and signed by colleagues including shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, Bridget Phillipson, and shadow science minister Chi Onwurah.
Stay alert to stop coronavirus spreading - here is the latest government guidance. If you think you have the virus, don't go to the GP or hospital, stay indoors and get advice online. Only call NHS 111 if you cannot cope with your symptoms at home; your condition gets worse; or your symptoms do not get better after seven days. In parts of Wales where 111 isn't available, call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47. In Scotland anyone with symptoms is advised to self-isolate for seven days. In Northern Ireland, call your GP.
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