Pubs in London will be allowed to open next week if they serve food, after the capital was placed in tier 2 of the new restrictions.
The move will delight MPs and businesses in London – but is likely to kick off a political row as most cities in the North and Midlands face the harshest tier 3 curbs.
Success in curbing Covid-19 infections in Liverpool means it will drop into tier 2, but Manchester faces the toughest restrictions after lockdown ends on 2 December – shutting pubs and restaurants except for takeaways.
In contrast, in London – although tier 2 is tougher than before the lockdown – they can reopen and serve alcohol as long as customers eat “substantial meals”.
But there must still be no household mixing indoors, while the ‘rule of six’ will apply outdoors and people must still work from home if they can.
Indoor leisure and entertainment establishments can also reopen, outdoor sports will be allowed and up to 15 guests will be permitted at weddings, with 30 at funerals.
However, residents should not travel to tier 3 areas unless necessary and – while spectators can return to outdoor sports and live performances – the limit will be 2,000 outdoors and 1,000 indoors.
Other tier 2 areas include the rest of the South East (except for Kent and Slough) and most of the South West (except for Bristol and the surrounding area) and the East region.
But Birmingham, most of the West Midlands, West and South Yorkshire, the Humber area and East Midlands cities including Derby, Nottingham and Leicester will be in top tier 3.
Just three areas – Cornwall, the Isle of Wight and the Isles of Scilly – will be in the least-restrictive tier 1, allowing all pubs and restaurants to reopen, but with table service only.
London escapes lightly despite the government admitting case rates are at least 10 per cent higher in 13 of its 33 boroughs – and above 150 per 100,000 for over-60s in 10 of them.
The decisions will be reviewed on 16 December, but are likely to remain in place until the five-day Christmas ‘amnesty’ – from 23 December – before being reimposed, possibly until Easter.
Announcing the decisions in the Commons, Health secretary Matt Hancock said he recognised it would be “tough” for areas with the harshest curbs, but insisted they were necessary to curb Covid-19.
But Jonathan Ashworth, his Labour shadow, warned hospitality businesses “will need substantial support to get through this period”, with many expected to go to the wall.
Sadiq Khan, the London mayor, said it was “the right decision”, with infections “gradually falling in most boroughs across the capital”.
But he added: “There must be no complacency – we know how quickly this virus can spread and we all need to keep playing our part and drive numbers down further across our city.”
And Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, warned of “devastating news particularly for the Midlands & North of England, Manchester, Birmingham and Newcastle”.
“The government must compensate these businesses for the period of time they have been closed, and the loss of business suffered due to restrictions through the festive period,” he said.