Liverpool, Warrington and Middlesbrough placed under social lockdown as cases soar

Households banned from mixing except in parks and outside hospitality venues

Andy Gregory
Thursday 01 October 2020 13:20
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Matt Hancock confirms Liverpool lockdown restrictions

Matt Hancock has announced new restrictions for Liverpool city region, Warrington, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough in a bid to curb rising coronavirus infections.

In an extension of the measures introduced last week in northeast England, households will be banned from mixing in all settings except for in parks and outside pubs, cafes and restaurants.

Residents are advised only to visit care homes in “exceptional circumstances”, and to only use public transport for essential journeys, which include going to work and school.

The new rules will come into effect at midnight on Friday night, Downing Street later confirmed.

“I understand how much of an imposition this is," the health secretary said. “I want rules like this to stay in place for as short a time as possible.”

Existing measures in Bolton will be aligned with those in Greater Manchester, he added.

Liverpool’s metro mayor Steve Rotherham had earlier described the looming new measures as likely “more draconian” than those introduced just last week, and likely to carry an “emotional impact”.

But the government “has to do something”, he said, warning that “all of our figures are going badly in the wrong direction”.

In Liverpool, 1,287 new coronavirus cases were recorded in the seven days up to 27 September, the equivalent of 258.4 cases per 100,000 people.

Despite Merseyside having already been subject to additional local restrictions, Liverpool's rate is the third highest in the country. Neighbouring borough Knowsley has the second highest rate, with 261.8 cases per 100,000.

Last week, the number of coronavirus patients in intensive care in the Royal Liverpool Hospital hit double figures, as clinicians warned of a significant rise in hospital admissions.

“Hospitals filling up (or full), Covid patient numbers escalating and still pressure to maintain elective surgery. Please close the pubs and restaurants!” Richard Wenstone, a consultant intensivist at the hospital, tweeted last Tuesday.

His colleague Junaid Rathore, a consultant emergency physician, replied: "[Second] wave is truly upon us. One of the busiest days @LivHospitals emergency department. 

“This time we are dealing with Covid and a hospital with no capacity. Hats off to our staff worked tirelessly to keep patients safe. We cannot allow elective work to continue.”

Politicians in the region are reported to have met with the health secretary on Wednesday evening, with a final decision taken at a meeting chaired by Boris Johnson on Thursday morning.

City leaders were waiting to be informed of ministers’ decisions ahead of Mr Hancock’s speech in the Commons, but had expected the new rules to be largely similar to those introduced in the North East.

In a joint statement, Mr Rotheram and the leaders of Liverpool, Sefton, Wirral, St Helens, Halton and Knowsley authorities have called for the government to work with them, provide financial support and increase testing capacity.

“Throughout the pandemic, we have always put the health of our residents first and we will continue to do everything we can to stop the spread of coronavirus and keep as many people as possible safe,” they said.

“However, at the same time, we must be clear that any further restrictions will deal a hammer blow to our economy.”

Announcing the new measures, the health secretary also pledged £7m in funding for local authorities to assist the affected areas.

The stricter measures come just nine days after initial local curbs - which are still in effect - were introduced in Merseyside, Warrington, Halton and Lancashire.

These included a ban on different households mixing in private homes and gardens, save for those in social bubbles, and guidance to use public transport only for essential purposes.

The new rules announced on Thursday come as a study based on the testing of 80,000 volunteers across England suggested the increased local restrictions in northwest and northeast England were successfully driving down new infections.

“We've seen the doubling time - from the last time we did the survey to now - has reduced to about 10 days ... from seven to eight days, so that has been slowing,” React study director Paul Elliott told the BBC’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,” he added.

Some 55 people per 10,000 tested positive in the study, which was carried out between 18 and 26 September, suggesting 411,000 people in England have the virus.

“The study published today shows us hope that together we can crack this and the more people follow the rules and reduce their social contact, the quicker we can get Liverpool and the North East back on their feet,” Mr Hancock told MPs.

Additional reporting by PA

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