Government won't rule out increased restrictions in COVID hotspots across UK

·Freelance Writer
·3-min read

Watch: George Eustice refuses to rule out increased restrictions in COVID hotspots

With the next round of lockdown easing set for Monday in England, a minister has warned that restrictions could be increased in areas with a surge in COVID cases.

Indoor mixing and increased social gatherings will be permitted from 17 May following weeks of declining coronavirus cases and deaths.

But environment secretary George Eustice refused to rule out a return of some restrictions in future COVID hotspots.

He told Sky News on Wednesday: "We can't rule anything out. But our plan that's been set out by the prime minister, the reason we're being incredibly cautious about exiting lockdown, is we want this to be the last.

"We want to try and avoid having to get into a tiered system and regionalisation. We tried that last autumn, we know that in the end we had to go for a full lockdown."

People return to the West End as as non-essential retail shops reopen and the national coronavirus lockdown three eases, and social distancing measures are still in place on 15th April 2021 in London, United Kingdom. Now that the roadmap for coming out of the national lockdown has been laid out, this is the first phase of the easing of restrictions, and large numbers of people are out in London's retail district. (photo by Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images)
Coronavirus restrictions may have to be enforced in UK hotspots, the government has admitted. (Getty)

It comes after the Indian variant of coronavirus has been blamed for an increase in cases in England.

According to Public Health England (PHE) documents seen by The Guardian, 48 clusters of the variant have been identified – including ones linked to secondary schools and religious gatherings.

The variant is also thought to be behind a big increase in positive cases in Bolton, where the town's rate of infection is 133.5 per 100,000 people – up from 70.2 a week earlier.

Eustice said the government is monitoring hotspot areas closely, with lateral testing being used to identify potential areas of concern.

But a council leader has urged it to consider increasing the focus of the vaccine programme in areas seeing a surge in coronavirus infections.

Barnsley Council leader Sir Stephen Houghton told Sky News: "We want the government to look at if the rollout can be accelerated.

"Maybe think about where we can be more effective with it.

As the third national coronavirus lockdown continues, face mask wearing and social distancing advice signs outside Grand Central station on 30th March 2021 in Birmingham, United Kingdom. After months of lockdown, the first signs that life will start to get back to normal begin, with more people enjoying the company of others in public, as the rule of six starts the first stage of lockdown ending. (photo by Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images)
COVID advice signs outside Grand Central Station, Birmingham. (Getty)

"We think we can start to bring the numbers down by getting people vaccinated quicker.

"It is getting to those younger age groups, which we need to as quickly as possible now because that is where we are seeing the infections rise."

Barnsley is among the areas where coronavirus cases have risen sharply recently.

Houghton said the council was looking at its messaging for next week, when the England lockdown is further eased.

"We want people to realise the disease is still out there, it is not over, we still have to be careful," he said.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - 2021/04/20: A sign of the Covid-19 vaccination center seen in London. (Photo by Dinendra Haria/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
A council leader has urged the government to consider increasing the focus of the vaccine programme in areas seeing a surge in coronavirus infections. (Getty)

Asked if the council would accept tougher restrictions to bring cases down, he replied: "We have got to do all we can to tackle the disease... the government has said that is unlikely, I think what the government is worried about is new variants."

Recent data has shown that while daily deaths and hospital admissions due to COVID are at their lowest since last summer, there are pockets where cases have risen sharply.

Data shows that although the average infection rate in the UK has fallen by 15% to 40.1 per 100,000 people for the two-week period ending 4 May, there have been sharp rises in some areas.

There are 28 local authority areas in England, 4 in Northern Ireland and 2 in Scotland that have case rates twice the national average.

Watch: How England will leave lockdown