Again?! What do you call doing the same thing and expecting a different result...

10 October 2020, 22:00 | Updated: 11 October 2020, 10:01

Boris Johnson is expected to announce a three-tier lockdown system on Monday
Boris Johnson is expected to announce a three-tier lockdown system on Monday. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

With Boris Johnson set to announce further lockdown restrictions for the north of England from Monday, has the government finally lost the plot with its handling of the coronavirus pandemic?

The prime minister is expected to announce to MPs next week a new three-tier lockdown system for handling local outbreaks of Covid-19.

It is believed that parts of northern England, where infection numbers have continued to rise, will face tougher restrictions, such as the closure of pubs, bars and restaurants.

However, local leaders and businesses in the north have criticised the idea, expressing anxiety about further economic devastation and the effect it will have on firms, unemployment and people's mental health.

And with further lockdown measures come further economic pain, meaning companies still struggling to recover from the pandemic will just be delaying inevitable redundancies or liquidation.

Past restrictions have failed in reducing infection rates so far, therefore expecting these new measures to make a difference this time around seems absurd.

Read more: City leaders in northern England criticise plans for tougher Covid measures

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said that accepting Chancellor Rishi Sunak's financial package, announced on Friday, would be to "surrender" people to hardship in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Speaking at a press conference with political leaders from Liverpool, Sheffield and Tyneside on Saturday, Mr Burnham said the measures risked "severe redundancies" and business closures.

"To accept the Chancellor's package as outlined yesterday would be to surrender our residents to hardship in the run-up to Christmas and our businesses to potential failure or collapse," he said.

"We are not prepared to do that. It will level down the north of England and widen the north-south divide."

He urged the government to provide "adequate funding and support" if new measures are introduced and added that the financial package is "insufficient to protect our communities" moving forward.

Read more: 'Tier three lockdown in Liverpool within days', says mayor

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

"I think new measures would be counter-productive," he said.

"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 in the measures that are currently in, not bring in new measures and get even further resistance and further confusion."

Read more: Boris Johnson to make statement on Covid restrictions on Monday

It comes after the prime minister's chief strategic adviser Sir Edward Lister wrote to northern MPs following a meeting with local leaders on Friday to warn them it was "very likely" the region would be hit with tougher rules.

Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson said he expected his city to be in the highest category and added: "I do believe that the measures that will be introduced will be a lockdown of public houses from Wednesday within the city of Liverpool and beyond the city of Liverpool in terms of the whole region.

"We do believe that there will be a concession to restaurants in terms of allowing restaurants to stay open until 10 o'clock."

Meanwhile, the leaders of West Yorkshire councils warned another lockdown will have a "devastating" effect on the town and city centres and regional economy.

In a joint letter to the chancellor and health and housing secretaries on Friday, the local leaders said Mr Sunak's announcement that workers in businesses which are forced to close under the new restrictions will have two-thirds of their wages paid by the government was "not enough".

The owner of a bar in Nottingham, MOJO, described how the coronavirus pandemic had affected his bar and its staff in the East Midlands city.

Martin Greenhow said: "To see the decimation of the performance and the effect on their mental health - these guys are really stressed about the future.

"We are down 80% on our turnover - even taking into account Rishi Sunak's latest round of proposed support.

"Let's just say he's not understood the problem. We have just seen two weeks of absolute slaughter."

The government's proposed three-tier plan will reportedly involve three alert levels labelled Red, Amber and Green.

Red would mean no social contact with anyone outside your own household in any setting, while hospitality and leisure businesses will be closed and amateur sports cancelled.

Amber would prevent social contact in private homes or gardens outside your 'bubble'. Care home visits should be avoided and people should only make essential journeys.

Green would mean the rule of six would be in effect for social gatherings, face masks should be worn in shops, pubs and on public transport, a 10pm hospitality curfew, and a 15-person limit at weddings and 30 at funerals.

On Saturday, senior public health officials warned that coronavirus is rising across the country.

Susan Hopkins, deputy director of Public Health England's national infection service, said: "The picture shows that all over the country the numbers of cases are rising.

"They are rising more quickly in the North West, the North East and Yorkshire and Humber than they are in the south of the country.

"Concerning aspects in terms of the North West is that in certain pockets of the North West it is rising quite fast now in the over-60s. And that's the group of people that we know would need admission to hospital more significantly than the younger population."

Also on Saturday, the British Medical Association (BMA) warned that the government could lose the public's trust because of its "inconsistent" messaging on the virus.

The BMA said clearer, stronger measures are needed to halt the spread of Covid-19.

It published a list of recommendations that it says could reduce the nation's level of infection while providing people with the confidence they need to go out safely and boost the economy.

The recommendations include modifying the 'Rule of Six', making the wearing of face coverings mandatory in all offices and working environments, making people wear masks in all outdoor settings where two-metre distancing is not possible, and providing financial support to businesses to help them make their premises Covid-secure.

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