More areas of England will be placed in Tier 4 on Boxing Day amid soaring COVID-19 cases and hospital admissions but Liverpool city region will remain in Tier 2 for now. Tony McDonough reports
Liverpool city region is to remain under Tier 2 COVID-19 restrictions despite rising cases across all six boroughs and a new strain of the virus pushing up infections across the UK.
At a Downing Street press conference on Wednesday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed more areas of the South East of England would be placed under the higher Tier 4 restrictions from Boxing Day, joining London. Cheshire and Warrington are to be moved into Tier 3.
Liverpool city region remaining in Tier 2 means non-essential retailers can stay open along with restaurants, pubs serving ‘substantial’ food, gyms and personal care and beauty businesses such as barbers and hair salons.
Tier 2 means separate households are not allowed to mix indoors, with the exception being ‘care bubbles’. Up to six people from different households can meet outside. Three households will be allowed to get together inside on Christmas Day only.
Liverpool, Everton and Tranmere Rovers football clubs will continue to be allowed to admit up to 2,000 spectators for matches and the ACC Liverpool events and conference complex will continue with its programme of events and concerts.
Mr Hancock said there had been a 57% rise in COVID-19 infections across England over the past week. There are now more than 18,000 people being treated for the virus in hospital, not far off the 20,000 peak seen in April.
It is believed the new strain, which is prevalent in London and the South East bit has also popped up elsewhere including Merseyside, could be up to 70% more transmissible than previous strains, although not necessarily causing more severe symptoms.
Although scientists cannot be 100% sure there are strong indications the new strain is responsible for a steep rise in cases and hospitalisations in and around Greater London. Adam Kurcharski, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “In a few weeks the answer will be obvious. But we can’t rely on the promise of future certainty when there is an epidemic to deal with right now.”
And the clinical director of critical care at Liverpool University Hospital also voiced concern at rising levels of infection. He Tweeted: “We are watching the rate of infections increasing on Merseyside with anxiety and apprehension.”
Across Merseyside’s six boroughs – Liverpool, Wirral, Sefton, Knowsley, St Helens and Halton – infection rates are now rising rapidly again after falling significantly during the November lockdown. Worst affected borough is Halton with 179 cases per 100,000 people. Liverpool is at 156 per 100,000, Wirral 135, Knowsley 142, Sefton 124 and St Helens is also up at 150 cases per 100,000.
Talking about the new COVID-19 strain, Liverpool’s director of public health, Matt Ashton, said in his latest blog: “It is estimated that it is about 50%-75% more transmissible than the dominant strain that has been circulating for months.
“It does not mean prevention measures such as face coverings, social distancing and hand washing are ineffective – they are, but it is more important than ever that they are performed rigorously.”