Some of England’s pubs were ordered back into lockdown today amid mounting fears over a surge in coronavirus cases.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that bars and restaurants in Bolton will only be allowed to serve takeaway, and must close between 10pm and 5am. 

Mr Hancock said the dramatic action was needed as the area had the highest rate of cases in the country, at 120 cases per 100,000 people. Partying by 20 and 30-somethings is thought to be largely responsible.  

The news came with Boris Johnson on the verge of slashing the legal limit on private gatherings to assuage concerns about the level of infections in the UK – which has neared 3,000 for two days running.

The number of people legally allowed to meet up in private homes could be reduced in England from the current maximum of 30 – potentially to as low as six.

Any private gathering with more participants would then face fines running into thousands of pounds. 

It is not expected the change would cover venues such as pubs, which have ‘Covid Secure’ measures in place.

Addressing his Cabinet this morning, Mr Johnson warned that in other countries the rise in infections ‘was followed a couple of weeks later by a rise in hospitalisations’. He said that was due to them ‘going on to infect other generations’. 

No10 refused to confirm that the limit on gatherings would definitely be tightened this week, but insisted the government was taking the situation ‘extremely seriously’ and ‘will not hesitate’ to act if necessary. 

But the move – which emerged as experts warn that Mr Johnson’s ambition to return the country to some sort of normality by Christmas is at risk – immediately sparked anger from Tory MPs who point out that infection levels remain extremely low. One former minister told MailOnline it would be ‘dreadful and disproportionate’, an ‘enormous intrustion into private life’ and ‘rule by directive’.

The dramatic increase in coronavirus cases over the past few days has caused anxiety about the possibility of a second peak, but experts point out that the uplift has been concentrated among younger people rather than the more vulnerable older generation.

There has also not yet been any signficant rise in hospitalisations or deaths, amid theories that treatments have improved and social distancing could be reducing the viral load – meaning cases are less severe.  

The dramatic shift is on the cards on a day when:

  • The number of people dying from coronavirus in the UK fell to a 24-week low in the final week of August, official data reveals. A total of 73 people died from Covid-19 in England and Wales in the week ending August 28, according to the Office for National Statistics; 
  • Nicola Sturgeon risked a fresh row with today after she said the Scottish government is ‘not encouraging people to rush back to the office’;
  • England’s deputy chief medical officer warned coronavirus must be taken very seriously again or the UK will face ‘a bumpy ride over the next few months’;
  • The director of the government’s test and trace system has admitted that screening for the public is being held back by problems with testing capacity. 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that bars and restaurants in Bolton will only be allowed to serve takeaway, and must close between 10pm and 5am

Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that bars and restaurants in Bolton will only be allowed to serve takeaway, and must close between 10pm and 5am

Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that bars and restaurants in Bolton will only be allowed to serve takeaway, and must close between 10pm and 5am

Boris Johnson (pictured leaving Downing Street today) and his senior ministers are holding a socially-distanced meeting with concerns rising about infections - which have neared 3,000 for two days running

Boris Johnson (pictured leaving Downing Street today) and his senior ministers are holding a socially-distanced meeting with concerns rising about infections - which have neared 3,000 for two days running

Boris Johnson (pictured leaving Downing Street today) and his senior ministers are holding a socially-distanced meeting with concerns rising about infections – which have neared 3,000 for two days running

The infection rates for young people have been rising recently, but so far they have been relatively flat for older people

The infection rates for young people have been rising recently, but so far they have been relatively flat for older people

The infection rates for young people have been rising recently, but so far they have been relatively flat for older people

Michael Gove walked through Downing Street to get to the Cabinet meeting in the Foreign Office - which has more space for social distancing

Michael Gove walked through Downing Street to get to the Cabinet meeting in the Foreign Office - which has more space for social distancing

Michael Gove walked through Downing Street to get to the Cabinet meeting in the Foreign Office – which has more space for social distancing

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said the public had 'relaxed too much' over the summer and described the rising number of cases as of 'great concern'

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said the public had 'relaxed too much' over the summer and described the rising number of cases as of 'great concern'

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said the public had ‘relaxed too much’ over the summer and described the rising number of cases as of ‘great concern’

The challenge facing the government was underlined today with the director of the test and trace programme admitting that accessing screening was being hampered by problems with lab capacity

The challenge facing the government was underlined today with the director of the test and trace programme admitting that accessing screening was being hampered by problems with lab capacity

The challenge facing the government was underlined today with the director of the test and trace programme admitting that accessing screening was being hampered by problems with lab capacity

What are the current rules on gatherings? 

The government’s guidance is that gatherings indoors should involve either a maximum of two households, or up to six people from more households.

However, the legal limit is currently 30.

Above that gatherings can be subject to police enforcement, with fines of up to £10,000 for those who organise events.

Reducing the ceiling would potentially enable the government to crack down on house parties, particularly with students preparing to start or return to university.

The change would not be expected to apply to pubs and other venues, which have ‘Covid Secure’ measures in place. 

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The government’s guidance is that gatherings indoors should involve either a maximum of two households, or up to six people from more households.

However, the legal limit is currently 30.

Above that gatherings can be subject to police enforcement, with fines of £100 for attending and up to £10,000 for those who organise events.

Reducing the ceiling would potentially enable the government to crack down on house parties, particularly with students preparing to start or return to university. 

The challenge facing the government was underlined today with the director of the test and trace programme admitting that accessing screening was being hampered by problems with lab capacity.

Sarah-Jane Marsh tweeted: ‘Can I please offer my heartfelt apologies to anyone who cannot get a COVID test at present. 

‘All of our testing sites have capacity, which is why they don’t look overcrowded, its our laboratory processing that is the critical pinch-point. 

‘We are doing all we can to expand quickly.’ 

Mr Johnson and the Cabinet were updated on the Covid-19 response by chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.

Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said: ‘The Prime Minister cautioned that in other countries which had seen an increase in infections this was followed a number of weeks later by a rise in hospitalisations.

‘The PM said that what had taken place elsewhere was that young people had gone on to infect older generations that had become seriously ill, and it was vital to ensure that did not happen here.

‘The Prime Minister said the Government must remain extremely vigilant and ensure that there was no complacency from the public and young people, in particular in following the guidance on how to prevent the virus from spreading.’

But Tory MP Desmond Swayne said the idea of toughening rules on private gatherings was ‘dreadful and disproportionate’.

‘In Hampshire cases are 6 per 100,000,’ he said. ‘This is enormous intrusion into private life. It is rule by directive.’ 

The government’s deputy chief medical officer said last night that coronavirus must be taken very seriously again or the UK will face ‘a bumpy ride over the next few months’.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said the public had ‘relaxed too much’ over the summer and described the rising number of cases as of ‘great concern’, despite Health Secretary Matt Hancock saying the situation was not ‘out of control’.

Professor Van-Tam issued the warning as Caerphilly in south Wales prepared to be placed under local lockdown and stricter measures were extended in Scotland.

There were a further 2,948 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK as of 9am yesterday, following the 2,988 reported on Sunday, which was the largest daily figure since May.

In an interview with journalists, Prof Van-Tam said: ‘This is a big change. It’s now consistent over two days and it’s of great concern at this point. 

‘We’ve been able to relax a bit over the summer, the disease levels have been really quite low in the UK through the summer but these latest figures really show us that much as people might like to say ‘oh well it’s gone away’ – this hasn’t gone away.

The outbreak as a whole

The outbreak as a whole

The more recent surge in cases

The more recent surge in cases

Public Health England data show that over the outbreak as a whole infections have been focused on older people (chart left), but the more recent surge has been among younger people (chart right)

The government's chief medical officer urged younger people to 'protect others' amid rising cases of coronavirus

The government's chief medical officer urged younger people to 'protect others' amid rising cases of coronavirus

The government’s chief medical officer urged younger people to ‘protect others’ amid rising cases of coronavirus 

Rising Covid cases being driven by young people 

Rising Covid-19 cases are being driven by people in their teens and 20s, where cases have tripled since July, official data shows, while the number of positive tests among older generations has continued to fall. 

MailOnline analysis shows infections have surged from 9.2 to 28 cases per 100,000 since July 4, ‘Super Saturday’, in those aged 20 to 29 in England.

And the case rate has also quadrupled among teenagers – those aged 10 to 19 years old – over July and August, before schools reopened, from 4.1 cases per 100,000 people to 16.2.

At the same time, cases in those over 80 have dropped drastically since the height of the pandemic, when they made up the majority of Covid-19 cases, and have halved since July.

Infections among older people – those who are most likely to get seriously ill or die if they catch the virus – have fallen steadily since lockdown.

Those groups may be more likely to take social distancing rules seriously and to continue staying home to protect themselves because they understand the risks the virus brings, scientists have said. 

While fears grow of a severe second wave of Covid-19 hitting the UK, the fact that most cases are among younger, healthy generations offers reassurance that hospitalisations and deaths will not be a direct result of small spikes.

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‘And if we’re not careful, if we don’t take this incredibly seriously from this point in we’re going to have a bumpy ride over the next few months.’

He said that the rise is ‘much more marked’ in the 17-21 age group, but noted there is a ‘more general and creeping geographic trend’ across the UK.

‘People have relaxed too much,’ Prof Van-Tam said. ‘Now is the time for us to re-engage and realise that this is a continuing threat to us.’

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs at a committee hearing today that people needed to take responsibility for their behaviour.

‘There is no inevitability to a second peak,’ he said. ‘It depends on the decisions that all of us take.’  

Oxford professor Sir John Bell today urged the government to keep focusing on the economic damage being done by tight restrictions. 

‘The spike in infections reported in the past few days was to be expected as life slowly returns to our streets and workplaces,’ he wrote in the Mail.

‘They are concerning and, yes, we must be prepared for a second wave of Covid-19 while working hard to contain localised outbreaks to prevent it.

‘We must not, however, let this hamper our efforts to return to normality.

‘Much of the increase in infections is among the young, who tend to experience moderate or no symptoms. Crucially, we have not yet seen a jump in hospital admissions or deaths.’

At her daily briefing in Edinburgh today, Nicola Sturgeon said the ‘really unwelcome’ decision to impose more lockdown restrictions on Renfrewshire and East Dunbartonshire was a ‘proportionate’ response to rising coronavirus cases.

There are now restrictions preventing people meeting in homes in East Dunbartonshire, West Dunbartonshire, Refrewshire, East Renfrewshire and Glasgow City.

The First Minister said of the restrictions: ‘Overall, I believe that they represent a proportionate and hopefully effective – but also an absolutely necessary – response to a worrying increase in Covid-19 across these areas.

‘The restrictions will be reviewed again next week and they will stay in place for as long as they are needed, but they will not stay in place for any longer than that.’

She said that gatherings in people’s homes were the biggest source of coronavirus spreading in the west of Scotland, rather than the hospitality sector.

She added: ‘They’re also a setting in which older and more vulnerable people are often most at risk of infection because older and more vulnerable people are perhaps more likely to socialise at home, rather than visit pubs and restaurants.

‘As a result, our restrictions focus on meetings in people’s houses.

‘However, we know some transmission is taking place in pubs and restaurants and so we will also keep that under close review.

The latest surge in infection figures means the UK is above its own threshold for imposing quarantine on other countries

The latest surge in infection figures means the UK is above its own threshold for imposing quarantine on other countries

The latest surge in infection figures means the UK is above its own threshold for imposing quarantine on other countries

‘We’ll discuss with the five local authorities concerned what further steps we can take to ensure that pubs, bars and restaurants are operating in line with the necessary rules.’

Rising Covid-19 cases are being driven by people in their teens and 20s, where cases have tripled since July, official data shows, while the number of positive tests among older generations has continued to fall. 

MailOnline analysis shows infections have surged from 9.2 to 28 cases per 100,000 since July 4, ‘Super Saturday’, in those aged 20 to 29 in England.

And the case rate has also quadrupled among teenagers – those aged 10 to 19 years old – over July and August, before schools reopened, from 4.1 cases per 100,000 people to 16.2.

At the same time, cases in those over 80 have dropped drastically since the height of the pandemic, when they made up the majority of Covid-19 cases, and have halved since July.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned today that gatherings in people's homes were the biggest source of coronavirus spreading in the west of Scotland, rather than the hospitality sector

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned today that gatherings in people's homes were the biggest source of coronavirus spreading in the west of Scotland, rather than the hospitality sector

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned today that gatherings in people’s homes were the biggest source of coronavirus spreading in the west of Scotland, rather than the hospitality sector

Infections among older people – those who are most likely to get seriously ill or die if they catch the virus – have fallen steadily since lockdown.

Those groups may be more likely to take social distancing rules seriously and to continue staying home to protect themselves because they understand the risks the virus brings, scientists have said. 

While fears grow of a severe second wave of Covid-19 hitting the UK, the fact that most cases are among younger, healthy generations offers reassurance that hospitalisations and deaths will not be a direct result of small spikes.

Health officials are rattled, however, and are warning young people to stop going to parties and large gatherings and to respect the social distancing laws. Health Secretary Matt Hancock yesterday appeared on Radio 1 to tell youngsters ‘Don’t kill your gran

Mr Johnson said in July that he was hoping for a ‘significant return to normality’ by Christmas.

‘It is my strong and sincere hope that we will be able to review the outstanding restrictions and allow a more significant return to normality from November at the earliest – possibly in time for Christmas,’ he told a Downing Street press conference. 

But John Edmunds, a member of the government’s SAGE scientific group, told ITV’s Robert Peston last night: ‘The epidemic continues to increase and then we have Christmas. 

‘And that is very difficult. What is Christmas? Well it’s meeting with your family very close. Restaurants and pubs and stuff like that. It’s all high risk. And it’s all indoors.’  

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