Britain's health secretary, Matt Hancock, has announced new lockdown measures on the northeast of England after a significant surge in coronavirus cases there.
Hancock told parliament that beginning Friday, people in the region would not be allowed to socialize with others outside their households or support groups. Restaurants and bars would be allowed to provide only table service, and "leisure and entertainment venues" would have to close between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
The health secretary told parliament Thursday the government does not take the steps lightly, and it understands the impact the restrictions can have on families, business and communities. But, he said, "We must follow the data and act. And the data says that we must act now."
Earlier this week, the British government had tightened restrictions across the country, banning social gatherings of more than six people.
Residents across England have been struggling to access the COVID-19 testing system since an increase in cases raised the demand for tests.
Hancock said the huge spike in demand for coronavirus testing for people who do not have symptoms was creating challenges in the system, after members of parliament shared stories of people without symptoms not being able to get tested.
Reuters news agency reports official statistics show Britain recorded 3,991 new positive cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, compared with 3,105 the day before. The news agency also reported a further 20 new deaths from COVID-19. Britain's overall death toll from the virus is 41,773, the highest in Europe, according to Johns Hopkins University.