Boris Johnson was forced to make a series of about-turns, withdrawing from his earlier determination to get people back to normality.
Weeks after offering people cheap meals to get them back to pubs and restaurants, he imposed a 10pm curfew to restrict numbers.
After instructing people to get back to work just a few weeks ago, he again urged them to stay at home if possible.
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Both moves angered a hospitality industry that has suffered badly in recent months and was hoping to build on an encouraging few weeks since the summer lockdown ended.
Banks’s brewer and pubs owner Marston’s was among those dismayed at Mr Johnson’s statement, both in the Commons at lunchtime yesterday and to the nation last night. The Wolverhampton-based company said it would have damaging effect on business and the confidence of people to visit Covid-secure pubs.
Boris Johnson insisted the Government must “act now to avoid still graver consequences later on”.
He said a month ago an average of around 1,000 people across the UK were testing positive for Covid-19 every day, adding the latest figure has almost quadrupled to 3,929.
He said the Government will introduce new restrictions in England “carefully judged to achieve the maximum reduction in the R number with the minimum damage to lives and livelihoods”.
He added: “I want to stress that this is by no means a return to the full lockdown of March.
“We will ensure that schools, colleges, universities stay open.
“We will ensure businesses can stay open in a Covid-compliant way. However we must take action now to suppress the disease.”
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He asked people to avoid travelling into the workplace, adding: “We are once again asking office workers who can work from home to do so. In key public services and in all professions where home working is not possible, such as construction or retail, people should continue to attend their workplaces.”
He added: “All pubs, bars and restaurants must operate a table service only, except for takeaways. Together with all hospitality venues, they must close at 10pm.
“And to help the police enforce this rule that means, alas, closing – not just calling for last orders.”
Mr Johnson tightened rules on masks and also announced that a maximum of 15 people are now able to attend a wedding.
He said: “We will extend the requirement to wear face coverings to include staff in retail, all users of taxis and private hire vehicles and staff and customers in indoor hospitality, except when seated at a table to eat or drink.
“In retail, leisure and tourism and other sectors, our Covid-secure guidelines will become legal obligations.
“Now is also the time to tighten up the rule of six. I’m afraid that from Monday a maximum of 15 people will be able to attend wedding ceremonies and receptions, though up to 30 can still attend a funeral as now. We will also have to extend the rule of six to all adult indoor team sports.”
The PM said the steps were likely to remain in place for six months. It was revealed yesterday that a vaccine may be around for limited numbers by Christmas, with wider distribution into next year.
He added: “No British Government would wish to stifle our freedoms in the ways that we have found necessary this year. Yet even now we can draw some comfort from the fact schools, universities, and places of worship are staying open, shops can serve their customers, construction workers can go to building sites and the vast majority of the UK economy can continue moving forwards.
“We’re also better prepared for a second wave with ventilators and PPE, the dexamethasone, the Nightingale hospitals and hundred times as much testing as we began this epidemic with.”
Marston’s chief executive Ralph Findlay said he was “very disappointed” by the new restrictions, which he fears will scare people into not going out when venues are Covid-secure. He said: “For us the main issue is a change in sentiment. I am concerned it is getting to look like panic in Government which does not have a consistent approach to what it is trying to do.”
Jane Stevenson, the Conservative MP for Wolverhampton North East, said: “No Conservative is comfortable with putting restrictions on people’s personal freedoms and I know we’re all fed up with these regulations. But we do now need to work together to get our transmission rate down. If we all adopt strict hygiene measures around hand-washing, sanitising and distancing I’m hopeful we can avoid any further restrictions. The vast majority of people have been brilliant over the past six months”
Michael Fabricant, the Tory MP for Lichfield, said it was “more important than ever” that people stick to the restrictions.
And he warned: “If these instructions are ignored and ‘R’, the reinfection rate, remains above one – which means the pandemic is continuing to spread – further restrictions will have to be introduced.”
Stourbridge Tory MP Suzanne Webb, said: “The measures announced by the Government are essential. We must act now to avoid still graver consequences later. The new restrictions will have profound consequences for my constituents, but we must suppress this virus and we all have a role to play in this, it is a collective responsibility to do so.”