As reported by The Morning Advertiser (MA), health secretary Matt Hancock has further restricted social contact across the Liverpool City Region, Warrington, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough – affecting some 2m people.
Following an announcement on 1 October, it will be illegal for households to meet in indoor settings, such as pubs and restaurants, across the regions with Hancock also recommending "against all social mixing between households".
The health secretary also advised people to limit themselves to “essential travel” only, which covers going to work – where working from home isn’t possible – and school.
Hancock told MPs that he wanted the rules to stay in place for "as short a time as possible" and that £7m funding would be available to affected areas.
These sterner measures come into force after the number of cases per 100,000 people in Liverpool passed 250 and following warnings from Mayor Joe Anderson the that the region was "only a matter of days" from a more severe lockdown – with some local leaders even calling for a two-week “circuit breaker” to get numbers back under control.
The Liverpool City Region, Warrington, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough join parts of Wales, the Midlands, Greater Manchester and other parts of the north east in being subjected to harsher restrictions in light of rising daily cases of Covid-19.
In total, at least 16.6m people are in local lockdown in the UK – about one in four people, according to the BBC.
How many people and pubs affected?
According to current population statistics, around 1.6m people currently live in the Liverpool City Region including approximately 466,000 in Liverpool itself – where more than a quarter of residents (26.8%, 125,200 people) are young adults (aged 15 to 29) compared to 19.9% nationally, while almost half (45.4%) are aged 16 to 44.
Throughout the rest of the region, Wirral is home to around 320,000 people, Sefton some 275,000, St.Helens approximately 176,000 residents, Knowsley 151,000 and Halton 130,000.
In total more than 1,000 pubs have been hit by the mixing ban in the Liverpool City Region according to real estate adviser Altus Group, comprising 450 sites in Liverpool, 46 in Knowsley, 128 in St Helens, 162 in Sefton, 175 in Wirral and 71 in Halton.
Elsewhere, Warrington's population currently stands at roughly 210,000, while Middlesbrough – the smallest and second most densely-populated local authority area in the north east – is home to around 140,000 people according to 2016 estimates by the Office for National Statistics. Hartlepool’s population is approximately 92,600.
Warrington, Middlesbrough and Hartlepool boast 142, 76 and 77 pubs respectively, meaning that the total number of sites affected by the Government’s latest crack down exceeds 1,200.
Potential hammer blow
On the eve of the new restrictions’ announcement, Liverpool Mayor Anderson – in collaboration with Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram and council leaders from Liverpool City Region – issued a statement explaining that while restrictions may be needed, they could potentially “deal a hammer blow” to the region's economy.
“As leaders of the Liverpool City Region, we all understand why further restrictions may be needed to halt the spread of Covid-19 in the communities we represent,” it read.
“Cases are now averaging well over 200 per 100,000 people across our region – in some boroughs, much higher.
“Throughout the pandemic, we have always put the health of our residents first and we will continue to do everything we can to stop the spread of Coronavirus and keep as many people as possible safe.
“However, at the same time, we must be clear that any further restrictions will deal a hammer blow to our economy.
“Our region is an international destination, and our visitor economy is worth almost £5bn to the city region economy every year, employing over 50,000 people. Over recent years, our hospitality and retail industries have been vibrant and growing.
“But, in the last six months, we have already seen many of these businesses go under in the face of Covid-19 and, without Government assistance over the past few months, many more would have followed.”
Further Government support needed ‘now’
The region’s political leaders previously stated that their local authorities had incurred losses of more than £350m since the start of the pandemic, with senior figures believing that 20,000 jobs could be lost in the hospitality industry by Christmas without urgent support.
Their statement added that while lives and the NHS must be protected, businesses providing the jobs upon which the region’s 1.6m residents rely must also be safeguarded with the help of further Government support.
“We are already at breaking point,” it continued. “With new restrictions – and who knows for how long they might be needed – our economy and public services may collapse.
“If we do not act now, we will see a legacy of unemployment and ill-health that will cost lives for generations to come.
“If Government decide that new restrictions are required, they must also provide a comprehensive package of financial support for our economy and our public services.
“And to help us minimise the length of restrictions required, we must secure from the Government an immediate uplift in testing capacity, that matches testing resources to the high level of cases in our region.
“We are fully committed to working in partnership with national Government, but we need the right support and resource to help us at a regional level. And we need it now.”
Liverpool council estimates that its budget deficit is £45.6m in a best-case scenario, rising to £66m in a worst-case scenario. Consequently, Anderson described the health secretary’s offer of £7m funding for local authorities as a “drop in the ocean”.
A difficult job made near impossible
What’s more Dan Davies, CEO of Wirral-based Rockpoint Leisure, describes the Government’s latest measures as a “massive step backwards” and “completely ill thought out”.
"It reminds me of the blind leading the partially sighted as far as Government policies go at the moment,” he tells The MA.
"We've got two issues here, one is the 10pm which is woefully inadequate in the first place, and the other one is obviously these latest extra restrictions for us here. This makes what is already a very very difficult job near impossible and it's not based on any, I don't think, facts."
Davies, whose private-sector development and regeneration company has sought to revive Wirral Peninsula town New Brighton’s Victoria Quarter, says that Rockpoint’s projects “won’t be possible” under the current circumstances.
"It won't be possible to carry on,” he explains. “Even locking the places down at 10pm we've got four places trading now – a pub, a restaurant, a bar and an art gallery with a bar in it. All of them are licensed until 12pm. We're losing hours every night off those venues and yet we can't drop our staff numbers, if anything we've had more staff on with the measures. It just makes it totally unviable.
"The industry is in a fight for its survival anyway and we've got Christmas, potentially a bad winter coming up. This will just knock a whole host of businesses completely out of business.”
Social distancing long forgotten
Discussing the Government’s latest measures, Steve Downing from the Liverpool branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) explains that they will be “impossible to police” and fears rules will be ignored by many pub goers.
“Pubs in Liverpool are mainly wet led, not eating places to take the family, they are visited by gangs of mates, or girls on the town,” he tells The MA.
“Now we have tens of thousands of students who have come to Liverpool to enjoy themselves. They don't stop enjoying themselves at 10pm, if not on the street, they return to the hall of residence to continue unrestrained and unsupervised drinking.
“Social distancing has long been forgotten or just ignored as a waste of time for them,” he continues. “I live near to such a hall and I can say those scenes on TV after closing occur every night not just weekends.
“It is clear that outside spaces are less transmission risk. Ventilation is important so grants and licencing should be given to encourage managed outside drinking and better fans etc for inside.”