Britain's government Friday warned it could re-impose a national lockdown across England to counter the coronavirus pandemic, noting rates of hospitalisation are doubling every eight days.
"We want to avoid a national lockdown, but we're prepared to do it if we need to," Health Secretary Matt Hancock told British media.
"We're prepared to do what it takes both to protect lives and to protect livelihoods," he said, warning of more local measures to come after restrictions were placed on swathes of northeast England from Friday.
As of September 18, tighter regulations on socialising, affecting more than two million people, came into force in Northumberland, North and South Tyneside, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Gateshead, and County Durham.
A government press release dated 17 September banned the following for these areas:
- residents must not socialise with other people outside of their own households or support bubble in private homes and gardens
- hospitality for food and drink will be restricted to table service only
- late night restriction of operating hours will be introduced, with leisure and entertainment venues required to close between 10pm to 5am
Britain has been the worst-hit country in Europe by the pandemic in terms of fatalities, with the government registering 41,737 deaths from Covid-19. Second worse in terms of deaths within the EU is Italy, with 35,668 deaths and France, with 31,095.
Numbers of new cases are reaching levels not seen since April: on Thursday the country registered 4,322 new patients, bringing the total to 385,936 cases, third after Spain with 654,637 cases and France with 415,481 cases.
Hancock said "we've also sadly seen that the number of people hospitalised with coronavirus is doubling about every eight days, so we do need to take action".
Government scientists have reportedly proposed a blanket lockdown to come into force across England over two weeks in October, to coincide with English schools' half-term holiday.
The government has faced stinging criticism this week over the failure to achieve the "world-beating" testing and tracing system it promised would be in place over the summer months.
Hancock defended his beleaguered testing programme, and said the government was "doing everything we possibly can for the cavalry that's on the horizon of the vaccine and mass testing".