British Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed a tiered system of further restrictions on parts of England on Monday, including shutting pubs, as the COVID-19 outbreak accelerates, though anger is rising at the cost of the curtailment of freedoms.
Johnson announced the new three-tier system in an attempt to standardize a patchwork of often complicated and confusing restrictions imposed across England. Lawmakers will vote on the move.
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The lockdowns will include shutting pubs and bars in areas placed into the "very high" alert level from Wednesday. The other levels in the new system are "medium" and "high".
So far, Merseyside in northwest England - which includes the city of Liverpool - is the only area in the highest risk category. Gyms, leisure centers, casinos, betting shops and adult gaming centers there will also close, Johnson said.
"We must act to save lives," Johnson told parliament, adding that he did not want another national lockdown and that he understood the frustrations of those chafing at the "repressions of liberty".
"If we let the virus rip, then the bleak mathematics dictate that we would suffer not only an intolerable death toll from COVID-19, but we would put such a huge strain on our NHS (National Health Service) with an uncontrolled second spike that our doctors and nurses would simply be unable to devote themselves to other treatments."
Health officials say the freshest data showed infections were rising across the north of England and in some more southerly areas too, while the virus was creeping up age bands towards the elderly from those aged 16-29 years.
Manchester intensive care consultant Jane Eddleston said 30 percent of critical care beds were taken up with COVID-19 patients and this was starting to affect healthcare for others.
"This is not how we want to live our lives but this is the narrow path we have to tread between the social and economic trauma of a full lockdown and massive human and indeed economic cost of an uncontained epidemic," Johnson said.
"The weeks and months ahead will continue to be difficult and will test the mettle of this country," he said.
But as millions of people across the United Kingdom grapple with restrictions, the hospitality sector says it is being brought to its knees by the government.
Karen Strickland, landlady of The Grapes pub in Liverpool, said their income was already down by 70 percent with the current enforced countrywide closing time of 10 p.m., and the government's support scheme help was not enough.
"It's absolutely horrendous. My staff, some of them still haven't come back to work yet, their job's just not here for them," she said, adding it made no sense to single out pubs.
Some pub owners had been contemplating legal action over the move to close pubs, saying Johnson had not produced the evidence to explain why they were being targeted.
"The plan is on hold," Sacha Lord, a night club and events operator, told Reuters. "We are still going to get the troops ready because obviously things are changing on a daily basis... We are not out of the zone yet."