LONDON – Cities around the U.K. imposed new coronavirus restrictions Friday as they raced to slow the spread of COVID-19 — with London at risk of following soon.
Leeds, a city of more than 750,000 in northern England, barred residents from meeting with members of other households either indoors or in private backyards. Wigan, Stockport and Blackpool also faced new restrictions.
In the Welsh cities of Cardiff, Swansea and Llanelli, households also will be banned from mixing indoors. And in Scotland, students were asked not to go to bars and restaurants this weekend.
Together with local lockdowns announced previously, one-quarter of the UK population is now living under heightened restrictions.
London, meanwhile, home to almost 9 million people, was added to the British government's COVID-19 watchlist as an “area of concern.” That means the U.K. capital could face new restrictions as well, if infections continue to rise in the city.
Mayor Sadiq Khan blamed a shortage of virus testing capacity for the rising infection rates in London, saying that tests had been diverted away from the capital to other hot spots. Officials around the country have criticized the U.K.'s testing program in recent weeks because shortages have hampered the ability to track and isolate infected individuals.
“London is at a very worrying tipping point right now. We’re seeing a sharp rise in 111 calls, hospital admissions and patients in ICU,'' Khan said, referencing Britain's hotline for medical assistance. “The near collapse of test and trace and the resurgence of the virus means new measures to slow its spread were absolutely necessary.''
The Office for National Statistics estimates there were about 9,600 new infections a day in England last week, a 60% increase from the week before. The biggest increase was in young people ages 17-24.