‘Traffic light’ system a repeat road to nowhere for economy as millions face restrictions

11 October 2020, 22:30 | Updated: 11 October 2020, 23:17

Boris Johnson's announcement could have a devastating impact on businesses in affected areas
Boris Johnson's announcement could have a devastating impact on businesses in affected areas. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The government's new 'traffic light' system will be a repeat road to nowhere for England's economy with millions set to face oppressive coronavirus restrictions.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to announce a new three-tier lockdown system for England that will determine how local regions respond to coronavirus outbreaks.

The measures will likely leave parts of northern England, where infection numbers have continued to rise, facing tougher restrictions, such as the closure of pubs, bars and possibly restaurants.

Over the weekend, local leaders and businesses criticised the proposal, with one group of Manchester MPs even writing to the prime minister to argue against the traffic light system.

And the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said northern leaders are still discussing restrictions with ministers as he once again criticised the government's response to the pandemic amid a growing north-south lockdown row.

Others have expressed their anxiety about how harsher restrictions could bring further economic devastation to cities and the effect they will have on firms, unemployment and people's mental health.

Read more: Fears of business 'devastation' ahead of fresh measures for North

Read more: New daily Covid cases dip slightly as 65 more UK deaths recorded

The inevitable economic pain this will cause will leave already struggling businesses in greater trouble, with redundancies and closures more than likely.

Despite the government's efforts to reduce infection rates through tougher local measures, coronavirus is still spreading through communities and the economy is still reeling.

Therefore, it is only logical to question the efficacy of Mr Johnson's new measures.

As we said on Saturday, repeating the same behaviours multiple times and expecting different outcomes is not a reassuring sign for the government.

If ministers keep insisting on locking down the country, there will only be one outcome for the economy and it will impact future generations for decades.

Read more: England to be divided into three-tier local Covid alert areas

Read more: UK at Covid-19 'tipping point' similar to first wave, top scientist warns

The three-tier system to be announced by the PM will determine the "appropriate interventions" that will be used in an area to curb local outbreaks of coronavirus.

It comes following a meeting on Sunday between the prime minister and his Cabinet colleagues where they discussed the new measures.

The government has been working with local leaders to establish which areas will be subject to the strictest alert level and which restrictions would be needed in those areas, Downing Street said.

Mr Johnson is set to chair a Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms (COBR) meeting on Monday morning where the government will "determine the final interventions" before he makes an announcement to Parliament.

MPs will then be given the chance to debate and vote on the new system later this week.

A Downing Street spokesperson said: "Our primary focus has always been to protect lives and livelihoods while controlling the spread of the virus and these measures will help achieve that aim.

"We must do everything we can to protect the NHS and make sure it can continue to deliver the essential services that so many people rely on.

"This is a critical juncture and it is absolutely vital that everyone follows the clear guidance we have set out to help contain the virus."

In Manchester, Lucy Powell MP, Jeff Smith MP, Mike Kane MP, Afzal Khan MP and Graham Stringer MP wrote to Mr Johnson and the Chancellor to object to the city being placed in ‘tier three’ of the Covid alert areas.

They said blanket closures to hospitality, among other proposed measures, will not work to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The letter states: “We understand the difficult decisions involved. However, we are very concerned that the proposals for blanket closures in hospitality and other measures would not meet this objective [keeping the virus under control].

“The data on where infections are occurring would not seem to support a rationale for your proposed measures.

“As you will know, a large proportion of our recent increase in infection are amongst our student population, now being managed in confined ‘households’ mostly in halls of residence.”

Elsewhere, Sacha Lord, night-time economy adviser to the Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, started legal proceedings to challenge any the restrictions on hospitality and entertainment venues across the north of England.

He said: "There is currently no tangible scientific evidence to merit a full closure of the hospitality and entertainment sectors.

"Our discussions and ongoing calls for evidence have been ignored and we have therefore been left with little choice but to escalate the matter further.

"Supported by the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, we have now engaged lawyers to begin a Judicial Review into the legality of the emergency restrictions due to be imposed on the hospitality and entertainment sectors."

The leader of Manchester City Council, Sir Richard Leese, said there were "great difficulties" for Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and the party's MPs to not be seen to be opposing measures to tackle the pandemic, such as the 10pm curfew in pubs.

He added: "But at some point, given frankly the job that government have done so far in tackling Covid-19, given until this week, unwillingness to properly co-operate with local government, this is the first time we've had any discussions in eight months, any real discussions with government over eight months, I think at some point the Labour Party in Parliament has to say, 'Enough is enough, we can't support this'.

"Clearly at the same time putting a realistic alternative."

Meanwhile, the city of Liverpool is preparing to head into a tier three lockdown, with the measures possibly staying in place for up to six months, a prospect that could devastate local businesses.

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