(Alliance News) - Pubs, bars and restaurants in coronavirus hotspots look set to face fresh restrictions, as the Health Secretary warned Britain was at a "perilous moment" in the pandemic.
Some 17,540 lab-confirmed cases of Covid-19 were recorded in the UK as of 9am on Thursday, while new figures showed 1,000 more people are in hospital with the virus in England compared to a week ago.
Matt Hancock said the situation was becoming "very serious", and that he was "worried" about the growth in the number of cases in parts of the country.
He said he was most concerned about parts of Yorkshire, the North West and North East of England, as well as areas of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Downing Street said on Thursday that a "range of measures" was being looked at to curb the rise, with a particular focus on northern England where it says infection rates are rising fastest.
It comes amid fears that the NHS could be overwhelmed if the virus gets out of control.
Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, or SAGE, said the north of England is "not that far away from the health service being stretched".
"Because even if we turn the epidemic around now, infections that occur today won't go to hospital for another week or two," he added.
The government is reportedly planning to order the closure of pubs in coronavirus hotspots, with ministers considering fresh financial packages to help the hardest hit areas and industries.
But with infection rates soaring in cities including Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle, regional leaders criticised the government for not consulting them ahead of changes.
Leaked government documents disclosed that a new three-tier system for restrictions will be announced on Monday before measures come into force on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson's official spokesman told a Westminster briefing on Thursday: "We are seeing coronavirus cases rise across the entire country but they are rising faster in the North East and the North West.
"We are keeping the data under close review and we are considering a range of options to reduce the spread of the virus in order to protect communities and to protect the NHS."
He suggested new restrictions on hospitality could be introduced in England as ministers come under pressure to act after Scotland announced fresh restrictions on the hospitality sector.
"Early data does suggest that a significant proportion of exposure to the virus is seen in the hospitality sector, and that is even more pronounced in younger age groups where we have been seeing the most rapid rise in infections," the spokesman said.
"The data is new and we will continue to gather evidence and review it."
He added he is not yet in a position to publish it.
However, England's Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty is said to have told MPs that the number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care in the north of England will surpass the peak in April if infections continue to rise.
The Guardian said MPs were also shown research suggesting that bars, pubs and restaurants accounted for 41% of cases in which two or more under 30s had visited the same venue the week before testing positive.
Meanwhile, more than 1,600 students at two Tyneside universities, and another 100 in Durham, have tested positive for coronavirus in the past seven days.
Newcastle University said 1,003 out of its 28,000 students have received a positive test result between October 1-7, and Northumbria University said on Thursday that 619 students have done so in the past week.
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