18 Sep Coronavirus: North East lockdown begins as curfew for bars and pubs and ban on household mixing brought in | Politics News
New local restrictions are being introduced in northeast England – including a 10pm curfew for bars and pubs and a ban on people mixing with others outside their household.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed the measures in a statement to the House of Commons on Thursday following government talks with North East councils and local MPs.
They come into force today in Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Gateshead, Sunderland and County Durham.
The restrictions include:
- Residents being told not to socialise with people outside their household or social bubble
- Table service only in bars, pubs, cafes and restaurants
- All bars, pubs, restaurants, cafes and other leisure and entertainment venues to close between 10pm and 5am
Speaking before the UK recorded another 3,395 cases on Thursday and 21 more deaths, Mr Hancock told MPs: “Like many other countries around the world, we’re continuing to see a concerning rise in cases with 3,991 new cases recorded yesterday.
“And this week the number of patients in mechanical ventilator beds has risen above 100 for the first time since July.
“The battle against coronavirus is not over.”
The health secretary said there had been “concerning rates of infection” in parts of the North East.
“We agree with the local councils that we must follow the data and act and the data says that we must act now so that we can control the virus and keep people safe,” he added.
“And I know that the people of the North East will come together to beat this virus, as defeat it we must.”
Reports subsequently emerged that Merseyside is to be placed under the same lockdown restrictions due to a soaring number of infections in some areas.
A government announcement is expected today, according to the Liverpool Echo.
Mr Hancock also used his Commons statement to announce that the government was giving a further £2.7bn to the NHS ahead of this winter.
It will help hospitals operate “safely in a world in which COVID-19 is still at large” as they work through a backlog of operations delayed by the lockdown earlier this year, he told MPs.
The government will also continue to invest in making accident and emergency departments bigger so they “have the space to continue treating patients safely in the coming months”, Mr Hancock said.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth accused the government of having “failed” to deliver an effective test and trace programme as millions more people prepare to live under localised restrictions in the UK.
“The British people made great sacrifices, they missed family celebrations, they couldn’t say their final goodbyes to loved ones at funerals but the British people honoured their side of the bargain,” he said.
“In return, the government was supposed to deliver effective testing and tracing.
“The government failed and we have vast swathes of the country under restrictions.”
Mr Hancock insisted testing capacity was at “record levels” but admitted there was a “challenge” being presented by demand for tests rising faster.
Ian Mearns, Labour’s MP for Gateshead, told Sky News he could not see any alternative to the measures.
“I’ve certainly warned the government directly in the Commons for the last two or three weeks that cases were going up and yet local testing capacity was being drawn elsewhere,” he said.
“Despite the fact that we were doing fewer tests, our case numbers seem to have quadrupled in the last three weeks.
“So we really are on the precipice and we do need to take some action.”
Professor Sian Griffiths, Public Health England advisor, said it was likely that problems with the government’s testing system meant the number of coronavirus cases was likely being underestimated.
“In all probability that’s what it means,” she said.
“It’s really important that the problems with the testing system do get dealt with.”
She said infection numbers in Germany were not increasing as fast as those in the UK.
“That may well be to do with their very enhanced testing system and to the fact they’ve really invested in local public health,” she said.
“They’ve given local public health resources and capacity to deal with local lockdown and I think we need to learn by observing what’s going on across Europe and make sure that we apply the lessons here in the UK.”
Superintendent Steve Long, of Durham Constabulary, said: “We would like to thank the vast majority of people who have taken personal responsibility, done the right thing and stuck to the guidance over the last few months.
“Our officers will continue to engage with the public, explain the new regulations and encourage people to act responsibly; only then will we move to enforcement as a last resort.”
Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council, earlier said his council had asked the government for “additional temporary restrictions” after becoming “very concerned about the exponential rise in the number of COVID-19 cases across the North East”.
He told Kay Burley: “Our evidence from contact tracing tells us it’s happening broadly in three main areas; in bars and pubs, in people’s homes, and in grassroots sports.
“So what we’ve done is try to get ahead of the curve and ask government for some additional temporary restrictions so that we can get on top of the virus in all of those areas.”
Explaining the reason for a 10pm curfew for bars, pubs and restaurants, Mr Forbes said: “One of the challenges has been groups of people meeting up in our towns and city centres very late at night – and after a few drinks that means social distancing goes out the window.
“So we want to ensure that isn’t another opportunity for the virus to keep spreading.”
Mr Forbes added that Newcastle City Council had asked for an exemption on informal childcare arrangements with extended family members.
According to Sky News data, the two-week coronavirus infection rate per 100,000 in the seven local authority areas facing new restrictions are:
- Sunderland: 155.7
- South Tyneside: 155.1
- Gateshead: 139.7
- Newcastle 116.3
- North Tyneside: 85
- County Durham: 70.2
- Northumberland: 47.1
Kevan Jones, Labour MP for North Durham, criticised the government’s “farcical” handling of rising infection rates in northeast England – and described the testing programme in the region as a “shambles”.
On Thursday morning, health minister Edward Argar told Sky News: “In the North East we are seeing a spike in infections. It is exactly what we have seen in the North West.
“We monitor that rate. Where we need to, we step in and take action.”
Mr Argar said, in northwest England, the rise in infections was due to people not adhering to social distancing rules with different households meeting up in close proximity.
He added: “Obviously a night-time economy can fuel that when people have been to the pub, people have been out late into the evening.
“That’s one of the ways in which that transmission can increase.”