BORIS Johnson was tonight grappling with a torturous decision over whether to plunge millions in the North back into tougher lockdown.
The Prime Minister tried to give a vision of hope today but admitted Britain is still facing one of history’s “darkest hours” with virus cases soaring again and Northern cities are the worst hit.
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He warned we must still fight “night and day to repel this virus” but there is “simply no reasonable alternative” to restrictions.
Pubs and restaurants face closure in Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle, with Rishi Sunak scrambling to put together a local bailout package for businesses facing ruin.
Some shops could be fored to shut, but workplaces and schools would remain open.
Mr Johnson’s sombre message came after Downing Street was hit with a “white faced briefing” from senior medics about soaring virus numbers in the North West and North East.
The dire stats prompted the PM to delay his plan to replace complex local lockdown rules this week with a simpler traffic light system, as ministers and medics instead focus on the rocketing cases.
A Downing Street source said tonight “the numbers are going the wrong way, and there will come a point very soon where we simply have to do more.”
Latest numbers from the virus hotspots make for grim reading, as 14,542 cases were confirmed last night across the country with 76 perishing.
In Manchester 2,927 new cases were recorded in the seven days to October 2 – the equivalent of 529.4 cases per 100,000 people. That means one in every 190 people in the area has the disease.
On Merseyside, Knowsley and Liverpool have the second and third highest rates, at 498.5 and 487.1 respectively.
In the North East Newcastle upon Tyne is suffering from 405 cases per 100,000 – meaning one in 250 in the area have the disease.
Whereas the UK wide seven-day average rate currently stands at 125.7 cases per 100,000 people, up from 63.8 per 100,000 a week ago.
Alarm bells are also ringing across the North West about rising hospitalisation figures.
The region saw 208 people admitted in one day, the highest single total since the end of April.
478 people admitted to hospital in England with Covid-19 on Sunday, the highest daily total in four months, and up from 241 a week earlier.
Today there were 2,783 patients in hospital with Covid-19, an increase from 1,881 a week earlier, and 349 on ventilators, compared with 259 seven days ago.
In his conference speech today, Mr Johnson admitted: “I don’t know about you, but I have had more than enough of this disease that attacks not only human beings but so many of the greatest things about our country – our pubs, our clubs, our football, our theatre and all the gossipy gregariousness and love of human contact that drives the creativity of our economy.”
But he insisted the country would succeed in fighting off the virus “just as this country has seen off every alien invader for the last thousand years” if everyone obeys the rule.
Addressing his party’s annual conference which was being held virtually due to the pandemic, Mr Johnson appeared to suggest restrictions will be over by this time next year.
He told party members “next time we meet it will be face to face and cheek by jowl, and we are working for the day when life will be back to normal.”
Back in Westminster Mr Johnson is facing a growing rebellion from Tory MPs over his lockdown ahead of showdown when the Commons votes to approve the 10pm pub curfew.
Tonight 17 of the party’s MPs voted against a Government motion approving the Rule of Six – with former ministers breaking cover to slam the measure.
The Tory rebels included former Cabinet minister Esther McVey, Tory grandee Sir Graham Brady and powerful committee bosses Huw Merriman and William Wragg.
Labour also hinted they could vote against the curfew in a vote that could come next week, unless ministers publish more evidence about the scientific case for the measure.
In bid to quell the rebellion, Mr Johnson said he “deeply regretted” having to take tough measures but insisted he has no choice.
The PM said: “This Government has been forced by the pandemic into erosions of liberty that we deeply regret and to an expansion in the role of the state from lockdown enforcement to the many bailouts and subsidies that go against our instincts.
“But we accept them because there is simply no reasonable alternative.”
But former Chancellor Norman Lamont said he feared Britian was turning into a “nation of informers like the old East Germany” over breaches of coronavirus rules.
He told the House of Lords: “It’s one thing to report you neighbour if you see that he is building a bomb factory. If he is holding a barbecue for seven people are you really going to report him?
“I deplore any suggestion that we should become a nation of informers like the old East Germany.”
Lord Lamont added: “I am not arguing let the virus rip. We need rules. But I think we have not had satisfactory explanations.”
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