Drinkers hit pubs for final night of freedom before second lockdown begins

Revellers hit the town to enjoy one last night of freedom before England was plunged into a second national lockdown at the stroke of midnight.

Huge crowds of people were pictured getting rounds in before pubs, restaurants and essential shops closed their doors for at least four weeks.

There was a large police presence on the streets as some drinkers became rowdy when the 10pm curfew hit in cities including London, Birmingham, Leeds and Newcastle.

The capital was gridlocked as tens of thousands of drivers raced to leave before new restrictions came into force.

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The second country-wide lockdown comes after another 492 people died with coronavirus in 24 hours, with cases soaring by more than 25,000.

Boris Johnson has repeated his instruction from March, telling the public ‘you must stay home’ until December 2.

People living in England can leave their houses to go to work or school, to exercise, to shop for food or to visit church.

They may also head outside for medical reasons, to escape harm, to care for vulnerable people, to see a dying relative or close friend or to volunteer.

Care home visitors are encouraged to meet their loved ones through a window or in an outside setting, amid concerns about the mental health strain on residents and their families.

The shutdown was approved by MPs last night who voted in favour by 516 votes to 38. Restrictions were then cleared through Parliament after being approved by the House of Lords.

It comes as NHS England is moved into its highest level of emergency alert, with fears mounting it will run out of beds during the country’s second coronavirus wave.

Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, announced on Wednesday the health service would return to ‘level 4’ alert in response to the ‘serious situation ahead’.

He said: ‘This is not a situation that anybody wanted to find themselves in, the worst pandemic in a century, but the fact is that the NHS is here.

‘The public can help us help you so our fantastic staff – our nurses, our doctors, our paramedics – can get on with looking after you and your family there when you need it.’

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is expected to confirm on Thursday that the 80% furlough scheme will continue for closed businesses beyond the lockdown period.

Mr Sunak will tell MPs the 80% furlough scheme will remain available beyond December 2 to any area of the UK under the highest Covid-19 restrictions, such as Tier 3 areas in England, according to The Sun.

He is also expected to announce that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will have access to the scheme, should they follow England in imposing national restrictions, according to the Telegraph.

The Bank of England is likely to slash its growth forecasts for the economy today, pumping in another £100 billion of quantitative easing to boost the economy.

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