We are at a critical moment in the second surge of coronavirus. Ministers, scientists and officials are deeply concerned about the rate at which Covid-19 is increasing in the North West, North East and Yorkshire and Humberside: they believe the daily quantum of infection is doubling every five to seven days in large chunks of northern England.
They see the course of the virus as very similar to what happened in Italy in the first phase of the illness, where infections were concentrated in the north.
Ministers are therefore feeling their way towards imposing more severe restrictions on socialising in those areas. They are likely to impose closure of all hospitality venues – pubs and restaurants – for a period.
These new restrictions are most likely to be announced on Monday, although they could come earlier.
As I understand it, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock is chairing a gold command meeting with relevant regional officials on Wednesday to review the growing crisis.
One obstacle to immediate imposition of the new restrictions is that mayors and politicians in the affected areas are demanding financial compensation for businesses in their areas damaged by the planned new restrictions, as a precondition for giving their support for the restrictions.
As I understand it, the Treasury is looking at how to protect businesses temporarily closed, though that help may not be forthcoming before the closures are announced.
As one minister told me: ‘It is a mess’.
A second order issue is the imposition of a new three-tiered system for assessing the gravity of the viral spread in specific areas.
The hold up, according to one source, is wrangling over the threshold for determining that a locality or region is in the most serious or ‘red’ category.
This system – which is often described as a ‘traffic light’ system, though officials eschew this badge – was supposed to be announced tomorrow, but may now be delayed a day or two.
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