Criticism grows over plans for tougher coronavirus restrictions in England

Published: 10 October 2020

Post Desk : Leaders in the north of England have hit out at plans for strict new coronavirus restrictions.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to outline a new three-tiered system of restrictions on Monday which could see pubs and restaurants shut across the North.

Government advisers and the mayors of some northern cities met on Friday night and are expected to hold a further meetings over the weekend.

Mr Johnson’s chief strategic adviser Sir Edward Lister wrote to northern MPs following Friday’s meeting to warn them it was “very likely” the region would be hit with tougher rules.

Northern leaders have previously complained they have not been consulted on the plans.

On Saturday, Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, said the north of England “is staring the most dangerous winter for years right in the face” and warned government help for the looming restrictions is “insufficient”.

Speaking at a press conference with political leaders from Liverpool, Sheffield and Tyneside, Mr Burnham said although negotiations were ongoing he was told by a “senior figure in Number 10” that the proposed financial help was “non-negotiable.”

“I’m angry actually about being told the effect on people’s lives is non-negotiable,” he said. “We will not surrender our constituents to hardship nor our businesses to failure.”

Mr Burnham said proposals to pay two-thirds of wages will hit the lowest paid and suggested people could be left without any financial support for several weeks.

“The conclusion we have reached is this package is insufficient to protect our communities,” he said.

He called for cross-party support from MPs across the North for a vote in Parliament on the proposals, adding he would not rule out a legal challenge.

At the same press conference, Steve Rotheram, mayor of Liverpool city region, accused the Government of locking down “on the cheap”.

He said: “We are actually talking about lives and livelihoods. Imposing new restrictions without also providing adequate funding and support is simply not acceptable.”

Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson had earlier said he expects his city to be in the highest category for restrictions and added he believes pubs will be forced to close while restaurants could be permitted to stay open until 10pm.

The Labour leader of Gateshead Council Martin Gannon also said earlier he is opposed to a lockdown of hospitality venues and that current measures should be given time to work.

Mr Gannon told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday: “I think new measures would be counter-productive.

“We had three different sets of regulations in 10 days which caused huge resistance and confusion.

“Our argument is that even with the mixed messaging, even with the confusion and frustration, the measures that are in at the moment are beginning to work.

“Help us to win confidence to the measures that are currently in, not bring in new measures and get even further resistance and further confusion.”

Meanwhile, the leaders of West Yorkshire councils warned there was “not enough” government support and that another lockdown would have a “devastating” effect on town and city centres and the regional economy.

In a joint letter to the Chancellor and health and housing secretaries on Friday, the leaders said: “Government must, for both levels two and three, provide a substantial economic package including grants and furlough – not just where businesses are mandated to close.

“In a three-level approach, there must be significantly more support available to businesses in areas that are in either level two or level three to avoid an even deeper economic catastrophe.”

Under the three-tier system, different parts of the country would be placed in different categories, with areas in the highest level expected to face tough restrictions such as pubs closing.

A further 13,864 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK were reported on Friday, and 87 more deaths were confirmed of people who died within 28 days of testing positive for coronavirus.

Nottingham has the highest rate in England, with 760.6 cases per 100,000 people – a huge jump from 158.3 per 100,000 in the seven days to September 29.

Knowsley has the second highest rate, which has leapt from 391.1 to 657.6 per 100,000, while Liverpool is in third place, where the rate has also increased sharply, from 419.0 to 599.9.

Separate figures suggested coronavirus cases are doubling about twice as fast in the North West, Yorkshire and the West Midlands as for the whole of England.

In Scotland, pubs and licensed restaurants in five health board areas – Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and Arran, Lothian, and Forth Valley – were forced to close for all but takeaway service for 16 days from 6pm on Friday.

In North Wales, new coronavirus restrictions are being introduced in Bangor following a sharp rise in cases, the Welsh Government has announced.

From 6pm on Saturday, people will not be allowed to enter or leave the area without a “reasonable excuse” and can only meet people they do not live with outdoors, it said.