Quarter of UK population under strict Covid rules


A man and woman wear surgical face masks on Queen Street on September 23, 2020 in Cardiff, WalesImage copyright
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A man and woman wear masks in Cardiff, which will see stricter rules from Sunday

More than a quarter of the UK population is set to be under coronavirus lockdown rules, as new measures come into force this weekend.

From Saturday in England, households in Leeds, Wigan, Stockport and Blackpool will be banned from mixing in each other’s homes or gardens.

In Wales, Llanelli will be subject to new rules from 18:00 BST, with Cardiff and Swansea following 24 hours later.

It comes as the rate at which the virus is spreading appears to be speeding up.

Meeting another household indoors was banned across the whole of Scotland on Wednesday.

The R number – which indicates how many people someone with coronavirus infects – has risen in the last week and now stands at 1.2 to 1.5. A number above 1 means the virus is spreading within the community.

Meanwhile, the daily number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK reached a record high of 6,874, government figures on Friday showed.

In England, the “rule of six” and a 22:00 closing time for pubs and restaurants applies nationally.

But extra restrictions are also in place in large parts of north-east and north-west England, West Yorkshire and the Midlands where the infection rate is higher.

The latest rules for Leeds, Wigan, Stockport and Blackpool came into force at midnight and ban different households from mixing inside private homes or gardens.

Support bubbles are not affected and friends and family can still provide informal childcare for children under 14.

People are also advised not to socialise with people they do not live with in any other settings, including bars, shops and parks.

Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme it was clear people had not been self-isolating if they had symptoms.

“What we have got to do is make it reasonable for people,” she said.

“We are very conscious of the emotional toll on people and mental health issues that will follow. And of course, it is a very different prospect going into winter, going into spring with light nights and good weather was one thing, going into winter I think is going to be very tough for people.”

She added she was concerned about the situation at the universities in the city. “We have put a testing site into Leeds University, on the campus,” she said. “We keep saying to the government we have not got enough community testing.”

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Media captionPeople in Leeds respond to the tighter rules

Later on Saturday, Wales – where the R number is between 0.7 and 1.2 – will see its first town-only lockdown, with people in Llanelli in Carmarthenshire banned from leaving town or mixing indoors with anyone outside of their household.

The same rules will then be brought in for Wales’ two biggest cities – Cardiff and Swansea – at 18:00 on Sunday. People will not be able to enter or leave the areas without a reasonable excuse, the Welsh Government has said.

It means by the end of the weekend, about half of Wales’ population will be under lockdown – 1.5 million people.

And the total number of people across the UK living under stricter rules will stand at 17 million.

Wales First Minister Mark Drakeford urged people in Cardiff to behave as if the new restrictions are in place until they come into force on Sunday. “My experience is people are wanting to do the right thing,” he told LBC.

Health Minister Vaughan Gething told Today restrictions were more focused on transmission in the home than the pub.

“These are not the severity of the restrictions we imposed in March but they are real and they are serious,” he said. “I think the more significant restrictions are taking apart the extended households, and the travel restrictions.

“We have good evidence it is contact in people’s homes that is driving it primarily. That is then leaking into other areas where people have contact, including licensed premises.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he recognised “the burden and impact these additional measures have on our daily lives but we must act collectively and quickly to bring down infections”.

It comes as London was added to the government’s Covid-19 watch-list – with all boroughs classed as areas of concern.

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About 1,700 students must self-isolate for 14 days

Meanwhile, up to 1,700 students at Manchester Metropolitan University have been told to self-isolate for two weeks in their student halls, after a spate of positive tests for Covid-19.

Students said they saw security and police officers outside their accommodation and were “told we are not allowed to leave”.

In a bid to stop the virus spreading in Scotland, students have been told not to socialise with anyone outside of their accommodation or go to pubs, parties or restaurants this weekend.

In Scotland and Northern Ireland people are banned from visiting other households indoors, although groups of up to six may still meet outside.

The new Scottish rules were introduced on Wednesday and expanded localised restrictions which had been in place in Glasgow and parts of the west of the country.

In other developments:

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