Londoners have expressed confusion and doubt over coronavirus lockdown restrictions announced Thursday that will affect millions living in the city.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the capital would move from the Tier 1 “medium” alert to Tier 2 “high” alert level from Saturday, urging London residents to support government efforts to suppress the spread of the virus.
Pubs and restaurants already had a 10 p.m. curfew under Tier 1, but the new rules mean Londoners will be banned from mixing with other households indoors in any setting. Outdoor gatherings will be limited to six people and people are advised to avoid using public transport where possible.
Schools, places of worship and businesses can remain open, leading many to question the restrictions.
“I’m fed up,” Rebecca Duncan, a 39-year-old from south London, told CNN. “It’s like one thing starts to open up and life starts to seem slightly normal and then something else comes along and pushes us all back.”
She called the new rules “ridiculous,” saying she could still go to the gym, get a massage or sit next to strangers in a cafe but couldn’t mix with anyone from another household.
Duncan said she supported businesses staying open, but she was having to cancel a meal out with five friends next week. “The restaurant will lose out, as will the taxis and trains and other associated businesses. Not being able to socialize will have a knock-on effect far greater to business – I won’t get my hair done, buy that new top, have a manicure.”
Liverpool, in northwest England, was the only region placed in the “very high” Tier 3 alert level when Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed the three-tier Covid Alert system across the country on Wednesday.
Tier 3 restrictions can vary but in Liverpool, pubs and bars must close unless they are operating as restaurants; gyms, betting shops and casinos must also close; weddings with more than 15 guests are not permitted, and people are advised to avoid traveling into or out of their local area where possible.
The county of Lancashire agreed to enter Tier 3 on Friday, but local leaders in the city of Manchester are locked in a standoff with the government after they rejected a move to put the area into the highest alert level.
The Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said in a statement on Thursday that the government’s “flawed and unfair strategy” was asking local authorities to “gamble our resident’s jobs, homes and business and large chunk of our economy on a strategy that their own experts tell them might not work.”
In a BBC interview on Friday morning, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab urged Burnham “to do the right thing by the people of Manchester,” accept the support package being offered by the government and move to Tier 3.
Calls for national lockdown
Johnson emphasized localized restrictions as he brought in the new system, rejecting opposition demands for a “circuit breaker” lockdown across England. Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have different restrictions in place, with Wales refusing to allow travelers from coronavirus hotspots in other UK countries to cross its borders.
A preprint paper written by scientific advisers to the UK government said thousands of deaths could be averted before the end of the year if a two-week circuit breaker is imposed soon.
CNN asked local residents around Well Street Common, east London, for their views about the new Tier 2 restrictions.
“I feel like it’s probably the right step. Winter is coming, and the stats just show themselves – death rate is going up, infection rate is going up, so we probably need to protect ourselves and each other coming into that time,” said Ben Allcock, a 36-year-old childminder.
“I feel like it’s the right decision that’s come too late,” he added. “I feel that if this decision or a variation on this decision was made earlier, probably more lives would have been saved.”
Monica Richardson, a stay-at-home mom, said she thought about 10% of people wouldn’t listen to the rules because of “mixed messages.”
The 36-year-old said the lockdown would affect everybody, but particularly the older generation.
What is a 'circuit breaker' lockdown?
“We’ve got a neighbor a couple of doors down from us and she has no children, no family, and she depends on her neighbors. I like to go and say hello to her, but with all these restrictions I prefer to stay at home and not put her in danger or my family in danger.”
Hospitality worker Maria, who declined to give her last name for fear of losing her job, told CNN that the venue where she works had closed for two months during the spring lockdown, before introducing hygiene, social distancing and contact tracing measures.
“I’m pretty worried,” she said. “I don’t know … how are we going to work again with these measures?
“Most of my colleagues have been fired, they’ve been made redundant,” she added.
“It’s not proved this is going to work and stop the virus spreading even more – and the economy is going to go down and down.”
‘Too little, too late’
Others said they thought the government might need to go further.
“I think the lockdown is long overdue, I’ve got high-risk relatives who are quite trusting of the rules, and I feel the rules at present don’t protect them or go far enough. It’s welcome but I fear it’s a case of too little, too late,” said Jack Duncan, the 31-year-old co-founder of a travel start-up, and no relation to Rebecca.
He told CNN he believed the rules were causing confusion on social media and would be “virtually impossible to police.”
“Lots of well-meaning people will make mistakes that put lives at risk, and a minority of more selfish people will wilfully misinterpret these rules. On top of that, scientific consensus seems to suggest a national lockdown is desperately needed,” said Duncan, from Wandsworth in south London.
Brigitte Cirilli, a 46-year-old from New Jersey living in Tower Hamlets in east London, believes she had Covid-19 but could not get a test at the time. She told CNN that on a recent grocery store trip “everyone either took their mask off or had their mask around their chin.”
“So because other people can’t wear their masks, or can’t abide by the rules and regulations, I have to stay home.”
She said she believed a two-week national lockdown or mass testing was needed. “Let’s just shut down everything and let’s see where we’re at,” she said. “I don’t know how else to do it.”
Sam Badcock, a 23-year-old from west London who works in marketing, said he didn’t feel the Tier 2 restrictions went far enough.
“A lot of these are too open to interpretation,” he said. “There’s such a heavy weight put on the cost of losing business, and almost to the point where the cost of losing business outweighs the cost of lives lost, which is a really skewed mentality and approach from my perspective.”
He said he felt “frustration” at the government’s approach. “It feels more avoiding the inevitable. We all know what needs to happen. We all know what works. we’ve seen it around the world.”
The rate of Covid-19 infections is rising rapidly across the UK, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said in a statement Thursday, announcing that London and seven other regions would move up to Tier 2. It said the measures will be reviewed every 14 days.
The DHSC said infection rates were rising steeply in London, with the number of cases doubling over the last 10 days. The seven-day average case rate stands at 97 per 100,000 people and is rising sharply.
The Office for National Statistics estimates that one in every 240 people in England had the virus in the week from September 25 to October 1, and that the numbers infected are doubling every seven to 12 days.
UK government data showed 18,980 new cases and 138 deaths Thursday, taking the totals to 673,622 and 43,293 respectively.
CNN’s Lauren Kent, Nada Bashir, Seb Shukla, Niamh Kennedy, Simon Cullen contributed to this report.