Tougher measures in Liverpool but hope of progress in curbing coronavirus

By David Hughes, PA Political Editor
·5-min read

Liverpool, Warrington, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough have become the latest areas subjected to local coronavirus lockdowns but ministers said there was a “small hope” that progress was being made in slowing the spread of Covid-19 cases.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said there were “early signs” that restrictions imposed in the past month were beginning to have an impact.

But announcing the new restrictions, he said the second peak in coronavirus infections was “highly localised” and in some areas it was “spreading fast”.

In Liverpool, there are 268 cases per 100,000 people, he told MPs, so action was needed.

The measures announced for the Liverpool city region, Warrington, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough follow similar restrictions imposed in the North East earlier this week.

Downing Street said they would come into force on Saturday morning at one minute past midnight.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called for a “rapid review” of the local lockdown strategy and urged the Government to consider whether the 10pm curfew should remain.

In a Commons statement, Mr Hancock said: “We recommend against all social mixing between people in different households.

“We will bring in regulations, as we have in the North East, to prevent in law social mixing between people in different households in all settings, except outdoor public spaces like parks and outdoor hospitality.

“We also recommend that people should not attend professional or amateur sporting events as spectators in the areas that are affected.

“We recommend that people only visit care homes in exceptional circumstances, and there will be guidance against all but essential travel – essential travel of course includes going to work or school.”

Mr Hancock said local leaders had been consulted and there will be a £7 million package of support for the councils affected, which the Labour mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson described as “nowhere near enough”.

He added stricter measures in Bolton would be eased to be in line with the rest of Greater Manchester following pleas from local leaders to allow hospitality venues to open under the same conditions as the rest of the region, such as table service and a 10pm curfew.

As local lockdowns come into force in Denbighshire, Flintshire, Conwy and Wrexham in North Wales from 6pm on Thursday, more than a third of the UK population will be subject to some form of extra controls.

Proposals being considered in Whitehall could see a simpler, three-tiered approach to local restrictions, although these have yet to be finalised.

Local lockdowns/restrictions in the UK
(PA Graphics)

Mr Hancock highlighted the findings of the React study, which he said offered some indication that measures already taken in hotspots were working.

“Today’s React study from Imperial College suggests that whilst the R number (the average number of people infected by someone with coronavirus) remains above one, there are early signs that it may be falling,” he said.

“We must not let up, but people everywhere can take some small hope that our efforts together may be beginning to work – I put it no stronger than that, cases are still rising.”

Mr Hancock also defended the 10pm curfew in pubs and restaurants but promised to do “whatever we can” to support the hospitality industry.

“I know that these measures are hard and they are yet another sacrifice after a year of so many sacrifices already, but there are some signs that what we are doing together to respond to these awful circumstances is starting to work,” Mr Hancock said.

But Sir Keir said ministers must “massively improve” lockdown communication and financial support and said only one out of 50 areas have successfully been freed of the restrictions.

“I think we need a rapid review of the local lockdowns because what we are seeing is that in some areas in lockdown the infection rates are going up, not down,” he told reporters in Westminster.

He also highlighted the concerns on the 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants in England raised by Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, who has argued the measure may be doing more harm than good.

“He has pointed, understandably, to lots of people coming out of venues at the same time,” Sir Keir said.

“I suggest it might be a good idea for the Government to reflect on what Andy Burnham is saying and ask themselves the question whether that should stay in place.”

Professor Paul Elliott, director of the React study – the largest research of its kind in England – said the most recent data suggests the rate of infection is slowing, although the country remains at “a very critical period”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “At the moment, we seem to be still at very high levels of the virus, and we do seem to still have a bit of an upward trajectory, but that very fast increase in the virus seems to have slowed and that’s very encouraging.”

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

He said there is “wide uncertainty” around the R number – which the study estimates to be around 1.1.

The research, based on the testing of more than 80,000 volunteers across England from September 18-26, found around one in 200 people were infected with coronavirus.

Around 55 people per 10,000 tested positive, an increase on the 13 people per 10,000 in the previous study between August 24 and September 7, suggesting 411,000 people in England have the virus.

New data from NHS Test and Trace shows that 38.1% of people who had an “in-person” test for Covid-19 in England in the week ending September 23 received their result in 24 hours – up from 28.2% the previous week but far short of the Prime Minister’s target of 100% originally set for the end of June.