Chief political correspondent
Heath Secretary Matt Hancock is facing MPs’ anger over coronavirus testing failings as he confirms new lockdown restrictions for northeast England.
In a Commons statement, he will announce a ban in the region on socialising with people from different households, a 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants and curbs on travel.
But MPs in the North East, 22 of whom were briefed on the clampdown by health minister Nadine Dorries, claim a shortage of testing in the region is to blame for the new restrictions.
Kevan Jones, Labour MP for North Durham, told Sky News: “It has added to the farcical way the government has handled this. The issue in the north east needs to be addressed as numbers are rising but testing in the north east is a shambles.”
The new lockdown rules in the North East will apply in Newcastle, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Gateshead, County Durham and Sunderland, following a dramatic spike in infections in the region.
According to Sky News data, the two-week infection rate per 100,000 in the seven local authority areas facing new restrictions are:
Other restrictions for northeast England are likely to include people being told not to travel on holiday with other households and sports fans being advised not to attend games.
It is also likely that only essential visitors will be able to visit care homes and, except for essential journeys, public transport use and car-sharing will be discouraged at peak times.
Ahead of Mr Hancock’s statement, Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes tweeted on Wednesday: “Some additional, temporary restrictions are being planned to prevent another full lockdown.
“We are awaiting confirmation from government on the final version of the regulations; I am expecting an announcement by the health secretary at 11am tomorrow.”
The North East clampdown comes as the Welsh government puts Rhondda Cynon Taf in south Wales under local lockdown from 6pm, after tighter measures were introduced in Birmingham and the West Midlands earlier this week.
And in Bolton, the town with the worst infection rate in the UK, officials say the prime minister should have seen the increase in demand for tests coming.
“It’s a really worrying time and we really ought to have predicted that this would be a time where there would be a surge,” the town’s public health director Donna Hall told Sky News. “For me it isn’t an issue of demand, it’s an issue of the supply and the management of the system.”
The head of the government’s testing system, Tory peer Baroness Harding, will face tough questions about testing on Thursday from the all-party science and technology committee of MPs, chaired by the former Tory Cabinet minister Greg Clark.
She will face claims that schools will have to close without more coronavirus tests and that thousands of teachers are already being forced to stay at home because of the lack of testing.
It was Mr Clark, when Boris Johnson was appearing before the liaison committee of senior MPs, who quizzed the prime minister about coronavirus testing capacity.
And Mr Johnson replied: “The short answer to that is: no, we don’t. Let’s be in no doubt that there has been a massive increase in testing capacity.”
Mr Clark then asked when the capacity would be in place and was told: “We’ll be at 500,000 by the end of October.”
And asked by Mr Clark if that would be enough to meet the demand projected at that time, the prime minister replied: “Well, we sincerely hope so.”
Mr Johnson was then asked about another national lockdown and replied: “I don’t want a second national lockdown.
“I think it would be completely wrong for this country and we are going to do everything in our power to prevent it.
“And can we afford it? I very much doubt that the financial consequences would be anything but disastrous.”
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Lockdown, Matt Hancock, North East, United Kingdom
World news – GB – New lockdown measures coming to northeast England – including pubs and restaurants curfew