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UK unveils lockdown plan; Liverpool at highest risk

LONDON — The British government carved England into three tiers of coronavirus risk on Monday in a bid to slow a resurgent outbreak, putting the northern city of Liverpool into the highest risk category and shutting its pubs, gyms and betting shops.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the three-tier national system was designed to “simplify and standardize” a confusing patchwork of local rules, as the country faces a “crucial phase” in which hospitals are now filling up with more COVID-19 patients than in March, when he ordered a national lockdown.

“These figures are flashing at us like dashboard warnings in a passenger jet, and we must act now,” he said.

Shops, schools and universities would remain open in all areas. Johnson told lawmakers that the goal of the new system was to save lives and prevent hospitals becoming overwhelmed without “shuttering our lives and our society” through a new national lockdown.

But pubs, restaurants and other hospitality businesses pushed back, with some industry leaders threatening a legal challenge against the rules and arguing that they are not to blame for rising infections.

After falling during the summer, coronavirus cases are rising in the U.K. as winter approaches, with northwest and northeast England seeing the steepest increases. Liverpool has one of the country’s most severe outbreaks, with about 600 cases per 100,000 people, even more than the hard-hit European cities of Madrid and Brussels.

Under the new measures, areas in England are classified at medium, high or very high risk, and placed under restrictions of varying severity.

Areas in the lowest tier will follow existing national restrictions, including a 10 p.m. curfew on pubs and restaurants and a ban on more than six people gathering. In areas at high risk, members of different households are barred from meeting indoors.

The “very high” risk tier will face restrictions including closing pubs — apart from those that serve meals — and, if local authorities want, other venues such as gyms and casinos.

Liverpool was the only area put into the top category Monday, but Johnson said authorities were still talking with other local leaders across the north of England.

Pubs, gyms, leisure centers, betting shops and casinos in Liverpool will close beginning Wednesday.

Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson said local authorities supported tougher restrictions as long as they were accompanied by improved test-and-trace measures to suppress clusters of infections — something he said the government had agreed to.

“As well as protecting lives and doing things to tackle the virus, we also need to protect livelihoods, so we argued really strongly for a stronger financial package,” said Anderson, a member of the opposition Labour Party. “Unfortunately, that wasn’t listened to.”

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