People from different households across swathes of northern England have been banned from meeting each other indoors.
It comes as part of “immediate action” to combat the continued spread of coronavirus in the UK, Matt Hancock announced before the order came into force at midnight.
The areas where the new restrictions apply are Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Hyndburn, Pendle, Rossendale, Bradford, Calderdale, Kirkless, and the City of Leicester.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said announcing the lockdown measures late at night on Twitter was a “new low” for the government’s communication. He said there was now a need for “urgent clarity” on the move.
Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy tweeted that she had been told that the new measures apply to meetings in both homes and gardens, adding: “People will have a lot of questions and we are pressing for more information quickly.”
It comes after the first local lockdown was implemented on June 29 in Leicester following a spike of Covid-19 infections in the city.
Mr Hancock previously said a range of targeted interventions there had failed in the days prior to the decision to lock the city down for several weeks.
The new measures in the north of England come amid fears of rising rates of the virus in the UK and the possibility of a second wave.
Government data showed the seven-day average of new cases in the UK had increased to just over 700 compared to around 550 in the second week of July.
However, the figure remained far lower than at the start of May when the average was close to 5,000.
Announcing the new restrictions, Mr Hancock tweeted: “We’re constantly looking at the latest data on the spread of coronavirus, and unfortunately we’ve seen an increasing rate of transmission in parts of Northern England.
“We’ve been working with local leaders across the region, and today I chaired a meeting of the Local Action Gold Committee. Based on the data, we decided that in Greater Manchester, parts of West Yorkshire & East Lancashire we need to take immediate action to keep people safe.
“The spread is largely due to households meeting and not abiding to social distancing. So from midnight tonight, people from different households will not be allowed to meet each other indoors in these areas.
“We take this action with a heavy heart, but we can see increasing rates of covid across Europe and are determined to do whatever is neccessary to keep people safe.”
Speaking to the media, Mr Hancock said: “We’re constantly vigilant and we’ve been looking at the data and unfortunately we’ve seen across parts of Northern England an increase in the number of cases of coronavirus.
“So today I held a meeting of the Government’s Gold Committee and working with local leaders including for instance Andy Burnham the mayor of Greater Manchester, we’ve decided that we need to action across Greater Manchester, East Lancashire and parts of West Yorkshire.
“So from midnight tonight (Friday) we are banning households meeting up indoors.”
Mr Hancock said “households gathering and not abiding by the social distancing rules” was a reason for the stricter rules.
He added: “We take this action with a heavy heart but unfortunately it’s necessary because we’ve seen that households meeting up and a lack of social distancing is one of the causes of this rising rate of coronavirus and we’ll do whatever is necessary to keep the country safe.”
Sir Keir took aim at the Government’s decision to announce the measures on social media, suggesting that such a significant announcement should have been made at a press briefing.
He tweeted: “No one would argue with putting in place local action to reduce the transmission of coronavirus.
“But announcing measures affecting potentially millions of people late at night on Twitter is a new low for the government’s communications during this crisis.
“When the government ended the daily press conferences, they said they would hold them for ‘significant announcements,’ including local lockdowns. It’s hard to imagine what could be more significant than this.
“For all the bluster, government has failed to deliver a functioning track and trace system that would spot local flare ups like these.
“The people of Greater Manchester now need urgent clarity and explanation from the government – and there must be proper support for those businesses and people affected by any lockdown.”
Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said: “Over recent days, there has been a marked change in the picture across Greater Manchester with regard to the spread of Covid-19.
“We have gone from a falling rate of cases in nearly all of our boroughs last week to a rising rate in nine out of 10 affecting communities across a much wider geography. In Rochdale, the one borough where cases have fallen, they are still too high.
“We have always said that we will remain vigilant and be ready to respond quickly should the need arise. In line with that approach, I have agreed with the Health Secretary that it is right to act on the precautionary principle and introduce modest measures now to bring down the rate of new infections.
“I ask all Greater Manchester residents – young and old alike – to protect each other by observing these new requirements. They will be reviewed weekly; meaning the more we stick to them, the quicker they will be removed.
“This is a place which prides itself on looking out for each other. We now need to be true to that by not acting selfishly and keeping the health of others in mind at all times.”
First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “The UK government is right to act quickly if they think the situation warrants it.
“But this is a sharp reminder that the threat of this virus is still very real. Please abide by the all #FACTS advice and stay safe.”
MP for Oldham, in Greater Manchester, and shadow transport minister Jim McMahon said there needs to be more clarity over what the Government is doing to support those in areas affected by new lockdown restrictions.
He tweeted: “On the face of it, for Oldham borough residents this is the same restriction announced already this week, replicated in further areas.
“As well as publishing a list, I’m sure all of us would welcome the Government adding what more they will do to support us, jobs and our economy.”
Labour MP for Manchester Central Lucy Powell tweeted: “Trying to get further information about this but it seems two households can no longer meet indoors in GM.
“Particular concerns in certain boroughs but restrictions applying across GM.”
Fears of an increase in cases has also led to changes in the Government’s overseas travel advice and quarantine requirements.
Travellers entering the UK from Luxembourg will have to quarantine for 14 days from midnight, the Government announced on Thursday, with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office now advising against “all but essential travel” to the country.
This comes after similar decision to remove the so-called “air bridge” travel corridor with Spain on Saturday night.
After strong reaction to the change in advice for Spain, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said decisions on border measures and travel advice “can be changed rapidly if necessary to help stop the spread of the disease”, adding that no travel was risk-free.