The region of South Yorkshire, in northern England, will move from local COVID-19 alert level high to very high from Saturday, after seeing a rapid increase in the rate of coronavirus infections, the UK government announced on Wednesday.
“In South Yorkshire rates are among the highest in the country and continuing to rise rapidly with case rates ranging from 285 people per 100,000 in Doncaster up to 402 people per 100,000 in Sheffield,” the statement said.
The three-tier local lockdown system was designed by the government, in an attempt to try to contain the second wave of the pandemic without having to impose a national lockdown. The three-level system is divided into medium, high and very high.
Medium means existing national social distancing measures such as the so-called Rule of Six, which prohibits indoor or outdoor meetings of more than six people, and the closure of hospitality venues at 10 p.m. (21:00 GMT) are applied.
High adds extra measures including a ban on indoor social mixing between households or support bubbles, and Very High includes a ban on all social mixing between people from different household in private and public places, and the closure of pubs and bars, unless they can operate solely as a restaurant, serving alcohol as part of a main meal.
As of Saturday, South Yorkshire will join the Liverpool City Region and Greater Manchester as the areas under the strictest restrictions or Tier 3 while most parts of the rest of England are under the high alert level.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and opposition leader Keir Starmer clashed again over the three-tier system on Wednesday in Parliament, with the Labour leader urging Johnson to follow the example of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, whose semiautonomous authorities have opted for time-limited lockdowns.
“The widespread fear is that tier 3 is the worst of all worlds. It brings significant economic harm without getting the virus under sufficient control to exit tier 3,” Starmer said.
Johnson replied, however, that the areas put into the tougher restrictions, which he said could be in place for up to 28 days, are already making progress.
“We are pursuing a local, a regional approach, which is the sensible approach for this country," the prime minister said, stressing that another national lockdown would cause further psychological and economic damage.
UK health authorities have recorded 762,542 COVID-19 cases and 43,697 deaths since the pandemic struck.