Government considers new lockdown of pubs, restaurants and hairdressers in Liverpool city region amid a COVID-19 spike as one business leader describes the move as ‘catastrophic’. Tony McDonough reports
Pubs and restaurants across Liverpool city region are facing a new lockdown amid a continuing rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalisations.
In a move described as “catastrophic” by one Liverpool business leader, it looks increasingly likely that pubs, restaurants, cafes, leisure venues and possibly hairdressers will be ordered to close their doors from Monday, October 12.
It is also reported that Chancellor Rish Sunak has signed off on a plan that would see wage support for businesses that have to close. This would be more generous than the successor to the furlough scheme announced by Mr Sunak in September.
However, it is not clear how long the restrictions will last and the chief executive of private sector lobby group Downtown in Business, Frank McKenna, claims such a lockdown would lead to a “multitude of business closures and a tsunami of job losses”.
“This is devastating news for Liverpool’s business community and the local economy,” said Mr McKenna. “The hospitality sector underpins much of the economic activity across the city region. Not only are the venues themselves impacted, but the entire business ecosystem will be hit hard.
Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram is angry the news of the restrictions had leaked out via the media and claimed there has been no dialogue between Ministers and regional political leaders. He said: “At the moment we have a patchwork of local measures across the country and too much confusion for the public as a result.
“So, clarity and consistency are certainly needed about what the different levels of restrictions are, when they will be imposed and, crucially, how and when they can be lifted again. Significant restrictions, like those being proposed, must also come with significant financial support for local businesses that will be affected, local councils who are leading our public health efforts and for NHS test and trace.”
Despite tighter restrictions imposed in recent weeks, such as a 10pm closure on bars and restaurants and a ban on people from different households mixing, COVID-19 cases and hospitalisations are continuing to rise in Merseyside and across the North West.
There are real fears that if the epidemic is not brought back under control then hospitals across the region will be put under immense pressure. As a response, the Government is set to introduce a new three-tier system of severity.
Liverpool now has an infection rate of more than 500 cases per 100,000 people. A number of hospital doctors have spoken out to report a rise in COVID-19 patients going into hospitals and intensive care units across Merseyside and Cheshire.
Mr McKenna added: “We are all concerned about infection rates and COVID-19 but we must be alive to the wider implications of placing businesses and cities in aspic for a further period of time.”
He is calling for a joint delegation of Northern politicians and business leaders to demand an urgent meeting with Government ministers to put a halt to what he describes as the imposition of a “guaranteed economic catastrophe” across the Northern Powerhouse.
“We have already got many companies, in the events, cultural and sporting sectors, hanging on by a thread,” he said. “I cannot overstate the devastation that this will cause to Liverpool and other parts on northern England if these plans are adopted.
“The anger and frustration from business is exacerbated by the fact that there is no evidence that local lockdowns are working – and seemingly there is no strategy beyond lockdown.
“So, what happens if the ‘R’ rate goes down in October. Do we have another grand re-opening of the hospitality venues in November, only to see infection rates creep up again, leading to a Christmas shutdown?
“The Government is treating businesses with contempt. There has been no consultation, no forward planning and no consideration of the wider implications to the economy or indeed other health matters.”
And Mr Rotheram added: “It’s clear looking at the data and speaking to public health teams in our city region that the spread of this virus continues to go in the wrong direction. We are seeing infection rates increase significantly, while hospital admissions are already moving towards the levels we saw back in April.
“Once again, I would urge everyone in the city region to exercise extreme caution. Please follow the guidance on social distancing, face coverings and washing hands and play your part in keeping all of us as safe as possible.”