10 million people in northern England face tougher lockdown from Monday

8 October 2020, 06:04 | Updated: 8 October 2020, 12:02

Manchester could be hit with the new restrictions from Monday
Manchester could be hit with the new restrictions from Monday. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Pubs and restaurants in northern England are facing the prospect of closure next week with Boris Johnson drawing up plans for tougher restrictions, according to reports.

The government is said to be considering further restrictions for cities such as Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Nottingham due to fears coronavirus infection rates are spiralling out of control.

Closures could be enforced as early as Monday, with the prime minister reportedly set to follow in the footsteps of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who announced further measures for Scotland on Wednesday.

Downing Street and the Department of Health and Social Care have both declined to comment on the reports.

If confirmed, the move would be another blow for an already hard-hit hospitality industry which has seen pubs, bars and restaurants forced to adhere to a strict 10pm curfew on customers.

And according to a report in the Financial Times, Chancellor Rishi Sunak is finalising a package of financial support for the sector amid fears of a fresh wave of job losses.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told LBC on Thursday: Cases are rising in the North West, the North East and other areas like Nottingham, near my own constituency.

"There is a serious situation there and we are working with local leaders.

"We haven't made a decision on that yet, but the Prime Minister and Health Secretary are working on this now and will make a statement shortly."

Read more: Calls grow for government to explain logic of 10pm curfew

Read more: Starmer calls on government to publish data behind 10pm curfew

Pubs in cities such as Manchester could be facing closure due to rising infection rates
Pubs in cities such as Manchester could be facing closure due to rising infection rates. Picture: PA

The proposed measures have been met with criticism from Conservative MPs and local leaders in the North.

Former minister Jake Berry accused the Prime Minister of being "London-centric" and enjoying his sweeping emergency powers "a little bit too much".

Politicians in Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle and Sheffield have also raged at "diktats announced without notice" and ministers treating the north "like a petri dish for experimentation".

The proposals have also lead to accusations of a north-south divide, with northern leaders saying southerners now face far looser restrictions on their daily lives.

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham reacted angrily, tweeting: "No discussion. No consultation. Millions of lives affected by Whitehall diktat. It is proving impossible to deal with this Government."

Shadow business minister Lucy Powell, who represents the Manchester Central constituency, tweeted: "Let's remember infections still largely occurring: inside households, then in education (mainly university) settings then health/care settings, then workplaces. In that order. Only then (and further down) do you get to hospitality and other settings..."

Referring to the prospect of pubs in northern England being shut down, she added: "It's really upsetting and a lot of anxiety for all those working in and running restaurants, pubs, bars in "the North" (that place up there where 15m of us live)."

Liverpool City Region metro mayor Steve Rotheram said: "It is deeply disappointing to wake up this morning to reports that new Covid-19 restrictions affecting millions of people in our city region, and across the North, could be in place within days, rather than hearing it during a genuine dialogue between ministers and local leaders.

"At the moment we have a patchwork of local measures across the country and too much confusion for the public as a result.

"So, clarity and consistency are certainly needed about what the different levels of restrictions are, when they will be imposed and crucially, how and when they can be lifted again.

"Significant restrictions, like those being proposed, must also come with significant financial support for local businesses that will be affected, local councils who are leading our public health efforts and for NHS Test and Trace."

Dan Jarvis, the mayor of Sheffield City Region, added: “Recklessly irresponsible to brief the papers but not leaders in the North who’ll somehow have to make this work. Get a grip Boris Johnson.”

Lisa Nandy, the shadow foreign secretary and MP for Wigan, added: “This a huge deal for businesses, jobs and families in the north of England. Leaking it to The Times is utterly disrespectful to millions of us who are already paying the price for the government’s inability to listen and learn from their mistakes.”

Labour MPs in the North East of England were also angry.

Jarrow MP Kate Osborne shared The Times' front page, tweeting: "If this is true, the Government is showing contempt for all by this being announced in the paper today.

"There needs to be a package of support for all and we need a strategy, a plan to get us out of these local restrictions. There needs to be hope for us all."

And Emma Lewell-Buck, Labour MP for South Shields, said: "My contempt for this Government grows stronger every day.

"If this is true it will destroy our local economy in Shields and since testing remains a shambles it won't even reduce our infection rates."

It is not yet clear which cities and regions will be affected by the measure or whether the closures will be partial or total.

However, it is likely that it will affect the places where infections per 100,000 people are high.

On Wednesday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock suggested pubs could be hit by temporary closures.

“Outside your household and socialising between households, the highest place in incidence of likely transmission, measured by where people have contacts, is unfortunately hospitality," he said.

"Now obviously that finding is not good news in terms of the policy action we have to take for that sector.”

Read more: Scotland faces new restrictions in bid to curb Covid-19 cases

Read more: Boris Johnson accuses Starmer of 'backtracking' over rule of six

The latest moves come after Ms Sturgeon announced a further tightening of restrictions in Scotland from 6pm on Friday.

Under the new rules, indoor hospitality venues will only be allowed to operate between 6am and 6pm daily, selling food and non-alcoholic drinks only, while outdoor bars will be allowed to serve alcohol until 10pm.

In the five regions with the highest number of cases - including Glasgow and Edinburgh - licensed premises will have to shut for a 16-day period, although they can offer takeaway services.

Speaking in the Scottish Parliament, the first minister warned that without the "short, sharp" package of measures, the disease could be "out of control" by the end of the month.

In England, Nottingham looks set to be the latest area to face new restrictions following a surge in infections.

The prospect of new measures comes amid growing unrest over the existing controls - including among Conservative MPs.

Tory rebels are threatening to try to overturn the 10pm curfew in an expected Commons vote next week, amid claims that it is proving counterproductive in health terms while further damaging the already weakened economy.

At Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer urged Mr Johnson to produce the science behind the curfew, raising the prospect of a government defeat if Labour joins the rebels in the division lobbies.

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