Tougher restrictions banning people from mixing with other households in any setting will be introduced tonight in large parts of north-east England due to a continued sharp rise in coronavirus cases.
Existing measures – for Northumberland, Newcastle, North and South Tyneside, Gateshead, Sunderland and County Durham – are being tightened at the request of local councils because the virus is still spreading, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.
It had been illegal for two households to mix inside or in a garden, but it was only guidance that they should not meet at public venues, including restaurants and pubs.
The measures will come into force from midnight on Wednesday and will be enforceable with fines, the Department for Health and Social Care said.
Making the announcement in the House of Commons, Mr Hancock said: “Unfortunately the number of cases continues to rise sharply.
“The incidence rate across the area is now over 100 cases per 100,000. We know that a large number of these infections are taking place in indoor settings outside the home.
“And so at the request of the local councils, with whom we have been working closely, we will introduce legal restrictions on indoor mixing between households in any setting.”
He said these steps are not taken “lightly” but they must happen now as swift action is more likely to bring the virus under control.
Following an increase in #COVID19 cases, more restrictions will be introduced in parts of the North East.
From Wednesday, residents must not mix with people outside their household or bubble in any indoor setting, including pubs & restaurants. This will be enforcable by law.
— Department of Health and Social Care (@DHSCgovuk) September 28, 2020
The Government said that, as of 9am on Monday, there had been a further 4,044 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK, taking the overall number to 439,013.
A further 13 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Monday.
It comes as the worldwide death toll from the coronavirus passed one million, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers.
Meanwhile, Labour called for Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to “end his Invisible Man act” on the plight of university students as he prepares to face MPs over the spike in higher education coronavirus cases.
Mr Williamson is due to make a statement in the Commons on Tuesday after thousands of students were forced to self-isolate following a surge in cases at universities including Glasgow, Manchester Metropolitan and Edinburgh Napier.
According to university statements and local reports this month, at least 25 institutions have seen confirmed cases.
Despite the unfolding debacle, Labour said its research showed Mr Williamson has not made any public appearances in recent days and has not tweeted since September 10 – more than two weeks ago.
On Monday, the South Staffordshire MP took to Instagram to post about a litter pick in his constituency that he had taken part in, rather than the situation at the UK’s universities.
Downing Street also said a 10pm curfew imposed last week struck the “right balance” between protecting the public and allowing pubs and restaurants to continue trading.
The curfew will remain in place despite chaotic scenes as pubs shut and warnings from some scientists advising the Government that it may be doing more harm than good.
Meanwhile, ministers have held crisis talks with Tory MPs in an effort to ward off a revolt over coronavirus laws.
Mr Johnson is under pressure to give Parliament the opportunity to debate and vote on future restrictions, with more than 50 Tory MPs signalling they could rebel on the matter.
MPs will vote on Wednesday on whether to renew the powers in the Coronavirus Act, with Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the influential Tory backbench 1922 Committee, leading calls for ministers to consult Parliament before introducing new curbs on people’s freedoms.
Some 52 Conservatives publicly back the amendment, enough to wipe out Mr Johnson’s Commons majority if it is put to a vote and opposition parties support it.
Mr Hancock, chief whip Mark Spencer and Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg met Conservative MPs in an effort to address their concerns.
Former minister Steve Baker, one of those who signed up to Sir Graham’s amendment, was at the “cordial and constructive meeting”, and said: “I hope and expect we will reach a satisfactory agreement.”