PUBS, bars and restaurants in coronavirus hotspots could face fresh restrictions, after cases continue to rise.
Ministers in England are under pressure after Scotland announced fresh restrictions on the hospitality sector including a ban on serving alcohol indoors from tomorrow.
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Downing Street said it’s looking at a “range of measures”, particularly in the North of England, where it says infection rates are rising fastest and “significant” transmission is taking place in hospitality settings.
The PM’s spokesman said today: “We are seeing coronavirus cases rise across the entire country but they are rising faster in the North East and North West.
“Early data does suggest that a significant proportion of exposure to the virus is seen in the hospitality sector, and that is even more pronounced in younger age groups where we have been seeing the most rapid rise in infections.
“The data is new and we will continue to gather evidence and review it.”
He added he is not yet in a position to publish it.
Yet, figures from Public Health England appear to show the hospitality sector has been linked to just 4.2 per cent of outbreaks in the week ending September 27.
In England, outbreaks are occurring more frequently in schools, universities and workplaces, according to the most recent published data.
Since August 9, PHE has been collecting data on outbreaks in pubs and restaurants – where 148 subsequent incidents have been recorded.
That’s compared with more than 500 each in education or employment settings.
However, it is important to note the PHE data does not encompass all outbreaks, or infections – just those reported to them.
As a result the data shows 4.2 per cent of outbreaks linked to Covid-19 that were investigated by PHE, were in a hospitality setting.
Another key thing to note is each outbreak can include multiple cases where people are infected, and this data does not account for that.
The PHE report says that, since August 10, all people who test positive for Covid-19 and are traced by the Test and Trace system in England are asked about “places they have been and activities they have done in the days before becoming unwell (in the 2-7 days prior to symptom onset).”
It adds: “Although this can’t say for certain if this is where someone picked up the infection, the information may be helpful to indicate possible places where transmission is happening.”
While not a direct comparison, statistics from Public Health Scotland show that one in five had been to a pub shortly before testing positive for Covid in September – although this doesn’t prove they caught it there.
It comes at a time where hospitality businesses are already struggling from months of closures earlier in the year and now social distancing rules.
Coronavirus is understood to spread faster and easier indoors because particles are able to linger in the air rather than be blown away outside.
But hospitality bosses fear another full shutdown could signal the end for many and have urged the Government not take the same action again.
Ministers are considering fresh financial packages to help areas and industries hardest hit by lockdowns amid widespread calls for support.
But with infection rates soaring in cities including Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle, regional leaders criticised the Government for not consulting them ahead of changes.
Leaked Government documents disclosed that a new three-tier system for restrictions will be announced on Monday before measures come into force on Wednesday.
We are seeing a definite and sustained increase in cases and admissions to hospital
Dr Yvonne Doyle
Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director for Public Health England, said: “We are seeing a definite and sustained increase in cases and admissions to hospital. The trend is clear, and it is very concerning.
“It remains essential that we all continue to socially distance, wash our hands regularly, wear a face covering when needed, and follow the guidance if living in an area with additional restrictions.
“Numbers of deaths from Covid-19 are also rising so we must continue to act to reduce transmission of this virus.”
Health minister Nadine Dorries said further measures are needed because hospital admissions could be at a “critical stage” in around 10 days’ time.
Earlier, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick did not rule out telling pubs to shut as he warned cases in the North and Midlands areas including Nottingham were “rising fast and that is a serious situation”.
He added to BBC Breakfast that he was working with Chancellor Rishi Sunak to consider fresh support for the hospitality sector because businesses could be put in a “really difficult, intolerable position”.
Downing Street also hinted at financial help and did not rule out a fresh furlough scheme for the worst affected industries and per-head funding for local authorities.
“Any decisions we take will not be made lightly; protecting jobs, particularly the two million in the UK’s hospitality sector, has been a priority throughout our response to the pandemic,” the Prime Minister’s spokesman said.
Ministers will announce a new three-tier Local Risk Levels approach to restrictions on Monday before they come into force on Wednesday, according to leaked documents disclosed by the Nottingham Post.
But the papers suggested that, while levels one and two have been signed off, ministers are still debating the details of level three.