Saturday, October 24, 2020

Lancashire enters highest level of UK Covid-19 restrictions

Lancashire enters highest level of UK Covid-19 restrictions

Lancashire on Friday agreed arrangements with the UK government under which the county in north-west England will introduce onerous social and economic restrictions to try to curb the resurgence of coronavirus.

The move doubles the number of people in England living under the tightest rules to 3.1m after Liverpool city region entered so-called tier 3 restrictions on Wednesday, which involve the closure of hospitality businesses as well as a ban on household mixing.

But Boris Johnson remains in a stand-off with Greater Manchester, which is refusing to introduce tier 3 restrictions unless the government provides increased wage subsidies for workers at businesses forced to shut.

The prime minister pointedly refused to rule out imposing restrictions on Greater Manchester as the area’s Labour mayor Andy Burnham repeated his demand that workers at closed businesses receive 80 per cent of their normal wages from the state, rather than the 66 per cent proposed by chancellor Rishi Sunak.

Asked whether he would insist on new restrictions in Greater Manchester, Mr Johnson said: “I am concerned about what is happening in Manchester, where clearly the levels of infections are rising . . . I would much rather not impose things. I would much rather work out something together.”

Pressed about if he could break the stalemate by offering more money, Mr Johnson said: “This is about saving lives. This is about joining together locally and nationally to . . . make these regional restrictions . . . work and save lives.”

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham is pushing for more financial support © Martin Rickett/Pool/Getty
Liverpool entered tier 3 Covid restrictions on Wednesday © Frank Augstein/AP

The government’s agreement under which Lancashire will move into tier 3 restrictions was brokered with the county’s local authorities.

From Saturday, pubs in Lancashire can only stay open if they operate as restaurants, and there is a ban on household mixing indoors or out.

The restrictions affect 1.5m people, including towns such as Blackpool and Blackburn, and aim to bring down rising rates of coronavirus that could overwhelm hospitals. 

Burnley had England’s fourth highest infection rate, at 605 cases per 100,000, in the week to October 11, a 50 per cent increase on the previous seven days.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “I know how heavy these additional challenges will weigh on everyday life for the people of Lancashire — but they are critical in bringing this virus under control.”

The government said the number of patients in Lancashire with Covid-19 in intensive care beds has reached almost half the number at the height of the pandemic in the spring, and the latest data suggested there would be more people on ventilators within two weeks than there were in the first wave.

Gyms and leisure centres will remain open in Lancashire, unlike in Liverpool. Casinos, soft play centres and adult gaming centres must shut.

The county will get £12m from the government to enforce the measures and take more responsibility for England’s faltering test and trace system.

There will also be £30m in further business support for Lancashire, distributed by a minister-led task force, according to one person with knowledge of the agreement.

Mr Burnham, Jamie Driscoll, Labour mayor of North Tyne, and Steve Rotheram, Labour mayor of Liverpool city region, issued a joint statement on Friday demanding that workers affected by local lockdowns be paid 80 per cent of their normal wages, as was the case under the original terms of the government’s furlough scheme. 

“We are all united in fighting for an 80 per cent furlough scheme for all people affected by regional lockdowns, wherever they are in the country,” they said.

“Paying two-thirds of salaries will not be enough to protect the jobs of thousands — it should at least match the 80 per cent that was available under furlough, with the minimum wage as the minimum support.”

The government has said universal credit would ensure those on the lowest incomes got 90 per cent of their wages, but the mayors added: “It doesn’t help everybody and takes weeks to come through. It will not prevent severe hardship for thousands of low paid workers before Christmas.”

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