Millions of people in London, Essex, York and other areas face tougher Tier 2 Covid measures from Saturday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said.
Under this “high” alert level, there is a ban on households mixing indoors, including in pubs and restaurants.
It comes as a final decision has yet to be made on whether Greater Manchester faces “very high” Tier 3 measures.
More than half of England’s population will now be living under high or very high-alert restrictions.
The areas to go into high alert restrictions this weekend are:
- Elmbridge in Surrey
- Barrow in Furness, Cumbria
- North East Derbyshire
- Erewash, Derbyshire
Delivering a statement to the Commons, the health secretary said “things will get worse before they get better”.
“Now, I know that these measures are not easy but I also know that they are vital,” Mr Hancock told MPs.
“Responding to this unprecedented pandemic requires difficult choices, some of the most difficult choices any government has to make in peacetime.”
The new three-tier system sees every area of England classed as being on medium, high or very high alert – also known as Tiers 1 to 3, respectively.
It came into effect on Wednesday, and the Liverpool City Region remains the only area currently in the highest tier.
As the latest restrictions were announced, the NHS Test and Trace system in England recorded its worst week for reaching community contacts since the middle of June.
Data shows some 62% of non-household contacts of people who tested positive in the community were reached through the system in the week ending 7 October.
This is the lowest success rate since the 24 June, down from 67% last week.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth has backed calls by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer for a temporary national “circuit-breaker” – a short limited lockdown – to stem the spread of the disease.
He told MPs in the Commons that a full national lockdown “stretching for weeks and weeks” would “be disastrous for society”.
“But we are urging him to adopt a short, time-limited two to three week circuit-break to take back control of the virus, to reboot and fix Test and Trace, to protect the NHS, to save lives,” he said.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s World at One, Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS providers, said he favoured this move to ensure the NHS is not overwhelmed by Covid-19 cases.
“What we need to do is err on the side of caution to ensure the NHS has the capacity that it’s got to treat every patient over winter,” he said.
Meanwhile, Labour mayor Sadiq Khan told London’s City Hall there was “simply no other option” to the new restrictions.
He said will continue to press the government for more financial support, but added that “we’ve got a difficult winter ahead”.
Concerns have been raised about the impact the restrictions will have on businesses, particularly in the hospitality sector.
The tier change means the capital’s 3,640 pubs and 7,556 restaurants will not be eligible for government support available to premises which have been ordered to close.
The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), the trade association for Britain’s brewing and pub sector, said Tier 2 restrictions without a “proper package of support” would “decimate” pubs.
Emma McClarkin, BBPA chief executive, said: “All pubs are already particularly struggling due to the current restrictions of the 22:00 curfew, rule of six and low consumer confidence exacerbated by low footfall caused by a lack of tourists and commuters.
“These further restrictions will leave most pubs fighting for their very survival.”
Nickie Aiken, Tory MP for the Cities of London and Westminster, has urged the government to set out an “exit plan” for ensuring London is placed back into Tier 1.
She said she remained “deeply concerned about the impact further lockdown will have on the capital’s hospitality, leisure and retail businesses.”
Robert Halfon, the Conservative MP for Harlow in Essex, said he welcomed Tier 2 measures for the county but would call on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to prevent businesses suffering financially from the move.
Meanwhile, discussions are continuing on whether Greater Manchester will be moved into the highest tier of restrictions.
A financial package has not been finalised, with local leaders expressing concerns about the impact on the hospitality industry of going into Tier 3.
Tier 3 involves pub closures and a ban on household mixing indoors, in private gardens and in most outdoor hospitality venues and ticketed events.
Mr Hancock confirmed in the Commons that no decision had been made, adding “but we need to make rapid progress”.
Meanwhile, Liverpool is considering a two-week half-term break for schools as part of its “battle with Covid-19”.
Under the plan, backed by a teaching union, pupils would be taught remotely at home for the second week.
How will the new measures affect you? Share your experiences by emailing email@example.com.
Please include a contact number if you are willing to speak to a BBC journalist. You can also get in touch in the following ways: