Matt Hancock has tightened lockdown measures for the North-East of England by making it illegal for different households to meet up indoors.
The Health Secretary said there would be legal restrictions on indoor gatherings in council areas already facing tighter rules following a rise in coronavirus rates.
The move strengthens the earlier guidance which advised people against socialising with people outside their household.
It affects nearly two million people in Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside and Sunderland – who will face fines if they flout rules.
Mr Hancock told the Commons: “Today I must announce further measures for the parts of the North-East where we introduced local action a fortnight ago.
“Unfortunately the number of cases continues to rise sharply. The incident rate across the area is now over 100 cases per 100,000.
“We know that a large number of these infections are taking place in indoor settings outside the home.
“And so at the request of the local councils, with whom we have been working closely, we will introduce legal restrictions on indoor mixing between households in any setting.
“We do not take these steps lightly but we must take them and take them now because we know that swift action is more likely to bring the virus under control and the quicker we can get this virus under control, the quicker we can restore the freedoms we all enjoy in the north-east and across the country.”
It is not immediately clear when the new measures will come into effect.
Under rules imposed two weeks ago, lockdown areas in the North East were banned from hosting friends or family from other households in their home or garden.
People also couldn’t meet others in their home or garden, inside or outside the affected area.
Exemptions applied for anyone in your support bubble or who is providing childcare for under 14s.