FROM midnight tonight half the population of England, including York, will be under stricter lockdown measures, as the city's health chief says it would have made a difference if restrictions were introduced sooner.

The City of York Council area, but not the surrounding North Yorkshire authority, will move into Tier 2 of the alert system, banning people from separate households mixing indoors – including in pubs and restaurants.

London, Essex, Elmbridge, Barrow-in-Furness, North East Derbyshire, Erewash and Chesterfield will also move into the second tier of measures.

But a bitter political row between local politicians and the Government has so far prevented Greater Manchester being moved into Tier 3 – the most severe restrictions.

In York Sharon Stoltz, Director of Public Health, has said the council expected stronger measures earlier and she thinks it would have made a difference if restrictions were introduced sooner.

She went on to say: “The new restrictions will make life more difficult, but following them is our best chance to slow the virus and have them removed as quickly as possible.

“This year has been tough for everyone and once again, we are asking people in our city, who have already done so much, to go further to protect each other.

“We continue to closely monitor the data to track and trace the spread of the virus as quickly as possible. We’re seeing the virus spread mainly through social contact and households mixing indoors and not social distancing.

“We must continue to wash our hands regularly, observe social distancing and wear face coverings in busy places.

“Please make sure you are familiar with the symptoms. Self-isolate if you show any of them, and book a test straight away. If you need advice or help, please visit or call our help line 01904 551550.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s announcement of the new restrictions means more than half of England’s population will be under Tier 2 “high” or Tier 3 “very high” restrictions.

With Boris Johnson under continued pressure to impose a short, nationwide circuit-breaker lockdown, senior figures advising the Government have expressed concern about the impact the existing measures will have.

One senior source said if a circuit-breaker had been introduced earlier as cases were just starting to go up, it could have knocked the numbers down to levels seen in the summer.

Another influential figure said many existing measures are “frankly useless” and will not be enough in places where cases are rising fast.

Meanwhile, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham claimed England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam has told him the only way to bring the virus back under control is a national lockdown.

Mr Burnham is strenuously resisting attempts to place Greater Manchester in Tier 3, saying what is proposed goes far beyond just closing pubs and bars and is not guaranteed to bring the outbreak under control.

“The deputy chief medical officer also told us last night that the only certain thing to work is a national lockdown,” Mr Burnham said.

“But the Government told us this morning it is unwilling to do that because of the damage it will do to the national economy.

“And yet that is what they want to impose on the North West.”

Mr Hancock responded with an appeal to local government leaders to set aside political differences and work with the Government to control the virus.

“I call upon local leaders to set aside this party politics and to work with us to put in place the measures that are needed in Greater Manchester, across the North West, so that we can deal with this virus and support people through it,” he said.

“This is a time for people to come together so that we can control this virus.”

The changes to the tier system – which only came into effect on Wednesday – that will go ahead this weekend were announced by Mr Hancock in the Commons.

He told MPs: “Let us be under no illusions about the danger posed by this virus.

“Coronavirus is deadly and it is now spreading exponentially in the UK.”

The latest figures show 18,980 new coronavirus cases and 138 deaths had been reported as of Thursday.

Liverpool City Region, comprising 1.6 million people, remains the only area currently in Tier 3.

But the changes announced by Mr Hancock on Thursday mean a further 26.7 million people will be covered by the Tier 2 restrictions.

The Health Secretary said: “We must take firm and balanced decisions to keep this virus under control.

“This is the only way to protect lives and livelihoods – and we must act now.

“Delayed action means more deaths from Covid, it means more non-Covid deaths and it means more economic pain later.”