Local authorities in England have been handed fresh powers from Saturday to be able to order shutdowns of shops and events as part of government's plans to impose localised lockdowns in the event of a flare-up in coronavirus cases in particular areas.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had confirmed new powers for local councils during a Downing Street briefing on Friday, when he laid out plans for a further ease up in the UK's lockdown by lifting travel restrictions on public transport and giving employers the option to get their workforce back into work from August 1.
"From tomorrow (Saturday), local authorities will have new powers in their areas. They will be able to close specific premises, shut public outdoor spaces and cancel events," said Johnson.
"These powers will enable local authorities to act more quickly in response to outbreaks where speed is paramount," he said.
The UK prime minister also said that ministers would receive clearer guidance on where they can intervene to "close whole sectors or types of premises in an area" and advise people in specific postcodes to stay at home.
The Local Government Association (LGA) said it hoped the move would prevent the need for stricter nationwide lockdown measures.
"Locally-led responses have proven to be the best way to tackle significant outbreaks, which this framework rightly emphasises," said LGA chairman James Jamieson.
"Councils know their local communities best and know how to address each unique outbreak. Greater powers for councils to take swift and effective action to address local outbreaks will hopefully help avoid the need for more stringent measures to be imposed locally," he said.
The move follows a partial lifting of a localised lockdown in Leicester, which had become the first UK city to face additional restrictions amid a flare-up of coronavirus cases at the end of last month.
In his Downing Street message on Friday, Johnson said it was his "sincere hope" the remaining social distancing restrictions could be reviewed in November, at the earliest, and a "more significant return to normality" would be possible by Christmas in December.
It came as he dropped the government advice for people to avoid public transport unless absolutely essential.
"We're seeing in many cases quite empty, for example trains, particularly during the day, and we're saying actually there is more capacity there. You can now return anybody, not just key workers, can now use public transport," said UK transport secretary Grant Shapps.
However, he advised people to continue to walk or cycle to work where possible.