New rules for Liverpool as virus cases in England quadruple

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Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures, during a coronavirus briefing in Downing Street, London, Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020. The number of new hospitalizations for COVID-19 and virus deaths in Britain are rising again, although both remain far below their springtime peak. (Jack Hill/Pool Photo via AP)

LONDON – Britain imposed tighter restrictions on social gatherings in the port city of Liverpool and three towns as scientists reported Thursday that the number of COVID-19 cases in England has quadrupled or more in the last month.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons on Thursday that the infection rate in Liverpool had risen to 268 per 100,000 people, seven times the national average. He said it was time to extend tougher measures to the city, as well as to the nearby town of Warrington and in Hartlepool and Middlesbrough, which are at the other side of the country.

The restrictions are similar to those imposed in northeastern England earlier this week, which forbid mixing of households except in public spaces like parks. The government also recommended that people visit nursing homes only in exceptional circumstances.

“We’ve had to take difficult but necessary decisions to suppress the virus," Hancock said. “The only alternative to suppressing the virus is to let it rip, and I will not do that.”

The measures announced Thursday are the latest in a series of heightened restrictions targeting local coronavirus hotspots as the British government struggles to control the spread of COVID-19. Confirmed daily new cases of COVID-19 rose above 7,000 in each of the past two days, the highest recorded since the pandemic began. Britain’s official death toll has passed 42,000 — the highest in Europe.

But scientists have offered some hope that the spread of the disease may be slowing.

A large government-commissioned study that randomly tested tens of thousands of people in England found that the epidemic is not increasing as rapidly as scientists had feared.

“At the moment, we seem to be still at very high levels of the virus, and we do seem to still have a bit of an upward trajectory, but that very fast increase in the virus seems to have slowed and that’s very encouraging,” Paul Elliott, chair of epidemiology at Imperial College London, told the BBC.