Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirms Liverpool city region is now under the highest COVID-19 alert level as local leaders keep pushing for extra financial support for stricken businesses. Tony McDonough reports
Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram has vowed to continue to push for extra financial support for businesses as the the Liverpool city region was placed on the highest COVID-19 alert level.
Addressing the House of Commons on Monday afternoon, Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled a new three-tier alert system designed to help bring the fresh spike of COVID cases under control.
Liverpool city region’s six boroughs – Liverpool, Wirral, Knowsley, Sefton, St Helens and Halton – will see pubs and bars, gyms and leisure centres, betting shops, adult gaming centres and casinos all close from Wednesday.
Restaurants will be permitted to remain open until 10pm but diners will only be able to share a table with people in their own households or support bubble. The same rule rules to apply to mixing in households or private gardens.
Pubs serving ‘substantial meals’ will be able to remain open. A substantial meal is taken to mean a main course served at lunch or dinner. No more than six people people will be allowed to gather together in any outdoor public space. However, schools, universities and places of worship remain open.
Liverpool city region is the first area of the country to be placed in the highest level of alert. Hospitals across Merseyside are reporting rises in hospitalisations and the numbers of people in intensive care units with COVID-19.
In a memo leaked to the Health Service Journal, Steve Warburton, chief executive of the Liverpool University Hospitals Foundation said the trust had reached a “critical point” amid the COVID-19 spike. He said hospitals in the city had begun scaling back their elective activity.
In a joint statement on Monday evening, Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram, Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson and the five city region council leaders said they supported the need for the control measures to combat the spread of COVID-19. But they repeated their call for extra financial support for businesses that are forced to close.
Last week, Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled a new support measures, including a pledge to pay two-thirds of wages of furloughed staff and monthly grants of up to £3,000 per month to help with overheads.
However, city region leaders say that is not nearly enough and fear the city region could see a wave of business closures and job losses in the coming weeks and months. On Monday morning Mr Rotheram attended the Government COBR meeting where he relayed the concerns in the “strongest terms”. The city region has already announced its own £40m emergency fund for stricken businesses.
The statement says: “We share the Government’s grave concerns about the increasing pressure on our hospitals and remain absolutely committed to working with the Government to drive down the spread of the Coronavirus and the number of Covid-19 cases.
“For anyone who has been is any doubt about the gravity of the situation we face if we do not bring cases down, the preparations announced this morning to step up the North West NHS Nightingale Hospitals may now be a wake-up call. It is therefore now as important as it has ever been that we do everything we can to contain the virus, protect our NHS and save lives.
“However, we want to be clear that there are some things upon which we have been able to agree with the Government, but others where we do not, such as the level of the furlough scheme. “
To assist with efforts to bring the number of cases down, the city region has gained agreement from Government for new, local arrangements and funding support for more localised test, trace and isolate and also enforcement, specifically:
- An enforcement package, with laws, not just guidance and advice, and funding and resources to enforce restrictions where necessary.
- An effective local Track, Trace and Isolate package with the funding to support it, cooperation on data, local control and the guaranteed supplies and resources required.
The statement added: “We also welcome the opportunity to engage logistics and capacity support from the Armed Forces, working alongside our own local authority staff and public health officials.
“These measures will be supported by a specific package of financial support to deliver this for our city region, covering a six-month period and not dependent upon the Tier position of our city region.”
However it stressed that no agreement had yet been reached on a wider economic support package. It said: “The national furlough scheme is inadequate and risks pushing tens of thousands of low paid workers below the national minimum wage, while the direct support to businesses is also less than that offered during the national lockdown.
“…We have been assured by Government that they will continue to engage in meaningful talks with us on these matters in the coming days and we intend to hold them to that promise. In the meantime, we are looking at what economic support can be provided locally, while we await further national government support.”