LONDON — The number of people infected with coronavirus in England appears to be rising for the first time since May, Boris Johnson said Friday, as he set out details of new restrictions to contain the virus just weeks into a long-planned summer reopening.
Speaking from Downing Street after the introduction of new limits on contact between households in the north-west of England, Johnson said it was time to “squeeze the brake pedal” and postponed plans to reopen some close-contact services like beauticians and resume live cultural performances, which had been expected to begin on August 1.
Face masks will also become mandatory in more public places in England, including museums, galleries, cinemas and places of worship from August 8.
Noting evidence of a resurgence in cases in Europe, Asia and Latin America, Johnson said: “We cannot fool ourselves that we are exempt. We must be willing to react to the first signs of trouble.”
According to the Office for National Statistics’ weekly infection survey, around 1 in 1,500 people in England now have the virus, compared to 1 in 1,800 on July 15 and 1 in 2,000 on July 2, Johnson said.
Millions of people in Greater Manchester and parts of East Lancashire and West Yorkshire were told Thursday night to stop meeting people from other households indoors or in private gardens. Johnson said the measures were not a “return to lockdown” in the region but targeted at reducing the kind of social contact that the government’s data indicates is “driving the current increase in cases.”
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said her government was advising against non-essential travel to the affected regions. “We are surrounded by warnings right now that COVID hasn’t gone away and may indeed be on the rise again. We ignore these warnings at our peril,” Sturgeon said.
Evidence of a resurgence of the virus showed England had “probably reached near the limits or the limits of what we can do in terms of opening up society,” England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty.
“We have to be realistic about this,” he added. “The idea that we can open up everything and keep the virus under control is clearly wrong.”
However, Johnson said that changes to guidance to encourage employers to bring staff back to workplaces where infection control measures have been introduced, as well as plans to fully reopen schools in England in September, remained in place. In Scotland, schools are set to reopen on August 11, Sturgeon confirmed this week.
Johnson, who has faced criticism over the government’s communications with the public during the pandemic — not least after the new local restrictions in the north-west were introduced with just hours’ notice — also debuted a new slogan: “Hands, face, space” — to remind people to wash their hands, wear a face mask and socially distance from other people.