Boris Johnson is set to announce a three-tiered system of coronavirus restrictions as part of new measures which could see pubs and restaurants shut in highly-infected areas.
The prime minister will reveal the full details of the approach in the House of Commons on Monday, with ministers under pressure to simplify restrictions so the public can easily understand the new measures in place.
It comes as Mr Johnson's chief strategic adviser Sir Edward Lister wrote to northern MPs following a meeting with leaders from the North on Friday to warn them it was “very likely” the region would be hit with tougher rules.
Parts of northern England are expected to be hit hardest by the move, where infection rates are nearly double that of southern England.
Despite introducing the rule of six and a 10pm curfew, infections remain stubbornly high across England. Scotland has introduced a new 6pm curfew for 16 days yesterday, while pubs and other licensed premises across central Scotland have shut completely.
There are fears England could go a similar route, with pubs, bars and restaurants possibly facing closure. Chancellor Rishi Sunak outlined a new support package for workers and businesses yesterday which would see the government pay two-thirds of workers' salaries if their place of work is shut by the new restrictions.
Rishi Sunak said the expansion of the Job Support Scheme would protect jobs and provide “reassurance and a safety net” for people and businesses across the UK in advance of a potentially “difficult winter”.
In the letter to northern MPs Sir Edward stated that “The rising incidence in parts of the country mean that it is very likely that certain local areas will face further restrictions.”
He added: “The Government will discuss a set of measures with local leaders all of which present difficult choices.”
Talks are to continue over the weekend.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick told BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions: “Our approach… will be to have simple national rules, some basic rules to be implemented where the rate of infection rises in a concerning way in a particular place, but then also greater freedom for those local areas to design further measures, in conjunction with ourselves.”
After a meeting with Government officials, leaders of West Yorkshire councils wrote a joint letter to the Chancellor stating: “We are concerned by rumours in the media that we might be pushed into Level 3 of a new system set to be introduced, without any discussion or consultation, or without adequate economic measures put in place to support affected people and businesses.
“Another lockdown will have a devastating effect on our town and city centres and the overall regional economy. It will result in a levelling down of our region and undo the good work we have done over the last decade to improve the fortunes of our people.”
Northern leaders have met the government's proposed plans with scepticism, citing economic concerns about the plans.
Joe Anderson, the mayor of Liverpool, said he expects the city to be put in a tier three lockdown within days which would see the harshest regulations put in place.
Labour leader of Gateshead council Martin Gannon said he was opposed to a lockdown of hospitality venues across the north-east region.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think new measures would be counter-productive.
“We had three different sets of regulations in 10 days which caused huge resistance and confusion.
“Even the Prime Minister at one stage didn’t have the foggiest idea what actual restrictions he had imposed on the north-east of England.”
The moves came as a further 13,864 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK were reported on Friday, and 87 more deaths were confirmed of people who died within 28 days of testing positive for coronavirus.
Nottingham has the highest rate in England, with 760.6 cases per 100,000 people – a huge jump from 158.3 per 100,000 in the seven days to September 29.
Knowsley has the second highest rate, which has leapt from 391.1 to 657.6 per 100,000, while Liverpool is in third place, where the rate has also increased sharply, from 419.0 to 599.9.
Separate figures suggested coronavirus cases are doubling about twice as fast in the North West, Yorkshire and the West Midlands as for the whole of England.
Mr Sunak insisted that the new support was “very different” to furlough, which he previously declined to extend – arguing it was “fundamentally wrong” to hold people in jobs that only existed inside the scheme.
But mayors from the north of England said the new measures appeared not to go “far enough” to prevent “genuine hardship, job losses and business failure this winter”.
Science Editor Tom Clarke explains Covid infections rates across the north of England
The support, which launches on November 1 and lasts for six months, will see the Government pay two thirds of each employee’s salary – up to a maximum of £2,100 a month – if their employer is legally required to close their premises because of restrictions.
Businesses will be able to claim the grant when they are subject to restrictions and employees are off work for at least seven consecutive days. Venues which are already legally closed, such as nightclubs, will also be eligible.
Employers will not be required to contribute towards wages, but will be asked to cover national insurance and pension contributions.
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, North of Tyne mayor Jamie Driscoll, mayor of Sheffield City Region Dan Jarvis and mayor of Liverpool City Region Steve Rotheram used a joint statement to warn the help may not be enough.
In Scotland, pubs and licensed restaurants in five health board areas – Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and Arran, Lothian, and Forth Valley – were forced to close for all but takeaway service for 16 days from 6pm on Friday.
While in North Wales, new coronavirus restrictions are being introduced in Bangor following a sharp rise in cases, the Welsh Government has announced.
From 6pm on Saturday, people will not be allowed to enter or leave the area without a “reasonable excuse” and can only meet people they do not live with outdoors, it said.