The worst hit parts of the country are being left in the dark over the Government’s lockdown plans as coronavirus rips through their communities.
Boris Johnson faced desperate pleas to “level with” the North of England as another 14,162 cases were reported across the UK.
The Government was poised to shut pubs and restaurants in coronavirus hotspots – although schools and workplaces would stay open.
Nicola Sturgeon imposed tougher restrictions on the hospitality sector in Scotland – increasing pressure on England to follow suit.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock hinted the move would pave the way for similar restrictions in a webinar with the CBI.
“Outside your household and socialising between households, the highest place in incidence of likely transmission, measured by where people have contacts, is unfortunately hospitality,” he said.
“Now obviously that finding is not good news in terms of the policy action we have to take for that sector.”
Labour analysis published yesterday shows existing lockdown measures are not working, with infection rates rising in 19 out of 20 areas with restrictions imposed over the last two months.
But the Prime Minister is still grappling with plunging millions more people back into a tougher lockdown to curb the deadly disease.
Treasury sources denied there was disagreement between the Chancellor and Health Secretary over how fresh restrictions would hit the economy.
The Government’s scientific advisors sounded the alarm after the UK’s infection rate almost doubled in a week.
SAGE experts warned tighter national lockdown rules are “inevitable” – and coronavirus could hit the same rates as March by the end of October
Professor John Edmunds slammed the existing “light touch” measures, telling the BBC: “Really that’s just delaying the inevitable.”
Fellow SAGE member Prof Callum Semple also said a national “circuit breaker” should be considered.
A third expert, Prof Stephen Reicher, warned the virus could reach the same levels as March by the end of this month.
“The good news is we have a window of opportunity to do something. If we squander that window of opportunity then we really are in trouble”.
Downing Street insisted it would “not hesitate” to act to drive down infections in areas of concern.
But it appeared that the next lockdown measures – which could be announced as early as today – would be regional, rather than national.
The PM’s official spokesman said: “We’re seeing cases rising across the country but they’re rising faster across the North East and North West. “We won’t hesitate to take further action in areas where cases and hospitalisations are rising significantly.”
Ministers could also publish plans for a simplified three-tier local lockdown system.
Ms Sturgeon announced that pubs and restaurants in Scotland will be banned from serving alcohol indoors and forced to shut between 6pm and 6am for a 16-day “circuit break” from Friday.
Hospitality venues across the central belt, which includes Edinburgh and Glasgow, will close completely.
Mr Johnson also faces pressure over his 10pm hospitality curfew as Tory MPs signalled they would rebel in a vote next week.
The PM was urged to publish the scientific evidence behind the restriction which pubs say is hammering their business.
Pub operator Greene King announced yesterday it plans to shut dozens of pubs with the loss of 800 jobs across the country.
At PMQs, Mr Johnson singled out Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle as areas of particular concern – but warned London was also at risk.
One Whitehall source admitted to the Mirror: “The data for the North in particular is increasingly concerning.”
But local leaders from across the North called for “clarity and transparency” rather than “diktats without notice” from Government.
Labour leader Keir Starmer appealed to the PM to provide answers for the North of England.
“The PM really needs to understand that local communities are angry and frustrated. So will he level with the people of Bury, Burnley and Bolton and tell them: what does he think the central problem is that’s causing this?”
He added: “The Prime Minister can’t explain why an area goes into restrictions. He can’t explain what the different restrictions are, and he can’t explain how restrictions end. This is getting ridiculous.”
Knowsley in Merseyside now has the highest rate in England, with 867 new cases recorded in the seven days to October 4 – the equivalent of 574.7 cases per 100,000 people. This is up sharply from 334.7 per 100,000 the week before.
Liverpool has the second highest rate, which has jumped from 342.3 to 551.6, with 2,747 new cases.
Manchester is in third place, where the rate has also increased sharply, from 307.0 to 541.5 with 2,994 new cases.
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said: “We are prepared to work in partnership with the Government but time is running out to get these things right. It is now urgent we get the support in place, otherwise the North-South divide will get even bigger.”
Other areas recording big jumps in their seven-day rates include Nottingham, Newcastle upon Tyne, Leeds and Sheffield.
Mayor of the Liverpool city region Steve Rotheram told the Mirror: “The Government hasn’t responded to our requests to evidence the restrictions imposed in our area.
“Consultation has to be meaningful so that there is consistency of message. I’d certainly welcome anything that offers some clarity and transparency.”
Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes said: “The current lockdown measures aren’t working. We want a more locally-led approach to lockdowns and economic recovery, as the current centralised response doesn’t fully take into account local conditions and circumstances.
“We need dialogue with Government, and a stronger sense of partnership, rather than diktats announced without notice.”
It comes as two powerful select committees – health and science – announced they were launching an inquiry to scrutinise the Government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic so far.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced a taskforce to bring in an airports testing system for people arriving from abroad.
Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has urged MPs to wear face coverings while walking around Parliament.