‘We may need to go even further’: Minister’s warning over rules in COVID hotspots

2 weeks ago

The government may need to “go even further” and introduce stricter measures to combat a rise in coronavirus cases in high-risk areas, a minister has told Sky News.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told Kay Burley there was “a lot of work to do” in the fight against COVID-19 and “we’re going to be living with it for a long time to come”.

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PM’s warning to local authorities

“We may have to go even further than what we’ve announced,” he cautioned, echoing a warning from the chief medical officer that the highest level of new restrictions “will not be sufficient” to slow coronavirus infections alone.

Mr Jenrick added that the government wanted to “design those steps jointly between ourselves and local government”.

But there has been anger among some local leaders, with claims that Westminster has imposed restrictions without adequate consultation.

Mr Jenrick was speaking after Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out a new three-tier lockdown system for England, with areas given “medium”, “high” and “very high” coronavirus alert levels.

More from Covid-19

The move, which is set to come into force on Wednesday if MPs approve it later, is aimed at simplifying the range of different restrictions already in place.

Tier 1, “medium”, will cover a significant part of England and includes the current national restrictions such as the “rule of six” and the 10pm curfew for pubs, bars and restaurants.

Tier 2, “high”, will see people prevented from socialising with other households indoors, although support bubbles will still be permitted.

In these areas, the rule of six will continue to apply outdoors in public spaces, as well as private gardens.

The “very high” alert level (Tier 3) will see people banned from socialising with other households both indoors and in private gardens, while bars and pubs will be closed unless they can operate as restaurants.

Alcohol could be served in pubs operating as restaurants in these areas, but only as part of a meal.

Residents will also be advised against travelling in and out of these areas, while it will be up to local politicians as to whether other leisure venues such as gyms and casinos should also close.

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How the new lockdown system affects the North

The Liverpool City Region is currently the only area in the very high alert level.

The government will give the region £14m to enhance enforcement and boost the NHS Test and Trace scheme.

Most of those areas already living under local restrictions – such as Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire and the North East – will move into Tier 2, as will Nottinghamshire, East and West Cheshire, and a small area of High Peak.

Essex County Council has asked Health Secretary Matt Hancock to move the area from Tier 1 to Tier 2, following what it said was a significant rise in cases.

The PM said the government would provide local authorities across England with around £1bn of new financial support in light of the new measures.

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Manchester evades top-tier, for now

Speaking at a Downing Street news conference, Mr Johnson made clear that the government could impose more restrictions if local politicians did not agree to new measures.

“If we can’t get agreement, then clearly it is the duty of national government to take the necessary action to protect the public and public health and we will,” the PM said.

But Downing Street’s approach has attracted criticism from local leaders.

St Helens North MP Conor McGinn told Sky News that there was “no agreement” on the measures for the Liverpool region with the government, instead saying they were “imposed” on the area.

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‘Not confident Tier 3 is enough on its own’

The housing secretary rejected such criticism, saying that “we did listen” to local leaders and “they influenced the measures”.

Councillor Ian Courts, Conservative leader of Solihull Council, said there was a “close dialogue” between the government and regional leaders, adding: “This is a tough call and in the end someone has to take a decision based on the best evidence they have.”

In the hours after Boris Johnson’s statement to MPs, newly published documents revealed that a “circuit breaker”, a short national lockdown, was recommended to the government by scientists three weeks ago.

Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said it was “concerning that they’ve rejected most of that scientific advice”.

Asked if the government was no longer following the science when it comes to tackling COVID-19, Mr Jenrick said “These are balanced judgements. The scientists advise and ministers, particularly the prime minister, have to make the difficult judgements.

“We’ve chosen to balance taking robust action, with ensuring that education can remain open and trying to protect as many jobs as we can.”

Greater Manchester mayor, Labour’s Andy Burnham, told Kay Burley that he would prefer a national “circuit break” lockdown to stricter local measures.

Mr Burnham said there was “pressure” from the government for the area to be placed in the “very high” alert level, but he had “serious doubts” that the Tier 3 measures would be enough.

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