As the Government pushes back the so-called COVID ‘freedom day’ Liverpool city region is to get extra support amid rising cases of the Delta variant. Tony McDonough reports
Liverpool City Region is to get extra support from the Government as COVID-19 cases surge across its six boroughs and the June 21 ‘freedom day’ is put back to July 19.
Under the Government roadmap, June 21 was earmarked as a possible day for the lifting of a number of COVID restrictions. However, surging cases of the Delta variant is now also leading to a rise in hospitalisations and Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to press the pause button.
Delaying the latest easing of restrictions means people bars and restaurants will continue to have to wear face mask and the table service only rule will also remain in place. Theatres will be limited to 50% capacity and nightclubs will remain closed.
There will be increased capacity for outdoor sporting events and weddings will be allowed to have more than 30 guests. Bill Addy, chief executive of Liverpool BID Company which represents 1,500 city centre businesses, said he was “disappointed” by the delay.
He added: “We are disappointed to see the 21 June date pushed back, especially for our city’s famous night time economy and events industry, which has been among some of the hardest hit by the pandemic.
“We would urge the Government to ensure that support is linked to enforced closure so that our creative industries and hospitality sector is not hit even further by being forced to lay dormant.”
Liverpool’s director of public health Matt Ashton warned cases of the delta variant were rising fast in the city, now up to 124.5 per 100,000 people. Younger people are particularly affected.
Urging people to get vaccinated, he said: “It is essential that we all have both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to be protected against the Delta variant first identified in India. One dose only doesn’t give sufficient protection.”
More support for surge testing is being deployed in six further areas in England in response to increases in the Delta variant. They are Liverpool city region, Birmingham, Blackpool, Cheshire East, Cheshire West and Chester and Warrington.
There will be more support for surge testing, tracing, isolation and maximising vaccine uptake. The support package is the same as was announced for Greater Manchester and Lancashire last week.
Mr Addy added: “We understand the commitment to data and not dates, but clarity is vital here. There is a lot of frustration around this, and it is understandable.
“We need to see the figures, because what we understood from the Liverpool pilot schemes was that, with a negative test before the events, there was no COVID outbreak. Show us the data that shows it isn’t safe to reopen.
“We are talking about an industry that is used to negotiating contracts with international artists, managing complex venues, selling thousands of tickets, adhering to government guidelines – they understand the challenge and they are determined to be able to open safely. Work with them on how to do that. Don’t just bolt their doors closed.
“The same goes for our hospitality sector. At Liverpool BID Company we are hosting a hospitality summit alongside Liverpool Hospitality to identify the key challenges the sector is facing right now, from recruitment to VAT, so that we can communicate directly to the Government what they can do to help save this industry and get it back on its feet.
“Support must continue if businesses are not able to open their doors and if there is reduced demand. At the start of this pandemic we came together as a city and showed true leadership to protect our industries. We need to see the same thing again.”
Paul Cherpeau, chief executive of Liverpool Chamber, said: “Many businesses will be disappointed but realistic in their response to the decision to delay the full reopening of our economy.
“So many lives and livelihoods have been affected by the pandemic and the restrictions it has brought upon the country. The process of unlocking must be irreversible – the last thing anyone wants is a return to greater restrictions – so a pause can be justified if it’s a means to that end.
“However, what must happen next is a renewed, strong commitment to providing targeted support to those sectors which will be most adversely affected or undermined by this latest delay, including hospitality and the arts.
“The success of the vaccine rollout and the receding link between Covid-19 infections, hospitalisations and deaths should precipitate an imminent lifting of all restrictions and we encourage a full reopening of our economy as soon as is practically possible.”