Tougher measures in Liverpool but hope of progress in curbing coronavirus

Liverpool Skyline
Liverpool Skyline

Liverpool, Warrington, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough have become the latest areas subjected to local coronavirus lockdowns but ministers said there was a "small hope" that progress was being made in slowing the spread of Covid-19 cases.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said there were "early signs" that restrictions imposed in the past month were beginning to have an impact.

But announcing the new restrictions, he said the second peak in coronavirus infections was "highly localised" and in some areas it was "spreading fast".

In Liverpool, there are 268 cases per 100,000 people, he told MPs, so action was needed.

The measures announced for the Liverpool city region, Warrington, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough follow similar restrictions imposed in the North East earlier this week.

Downing Street said they would come into force on Saturday morning at one minute past midnight.

In a Commons statement, Mr Hancock said: "We recommend against all social mixing between people in different households.

"We will bring in regulations, as we have in the North East, to prevent in law social mixing between people in different households in all settings, except outdoor public spaces like parks and outdoor hospitality.

"We also recommend that people should not attend professional or amateur sporting events as spectators in the areas that are affected.

"We recommend that people only visit care homes in exceptional circumstances, and there will be guidance against all but essential travel – essential travel of course includes going to work or school."

Mr Hancock said local leaders had been consulted and there will be a £7 million package of support for the councils affected, which the Labour mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson described as "nowhere near enough".

He added stricter measures in Bolton would be eased to be in line with the rest of Greater Manchester following pleas from local leaders to allow hospitality venues to open under the same conditions as the rest of the region, such as table service and a 10pm curfew.

As local lockdowns come into force in Denbighshire, Flintshire, Conwy and Wrexham in North Wales from 6pm on Thursday, more than a third of the UK population will be subject to some form of extra controls.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Mr Hancock highlighted the findings of the React study, which he said offered some indication that measures already taken in hotspots were working.

"Today's React study from Imperial College suggests that whilst the R number (the average number of people infected by someone with coronavirus) remains above one, there are early signs that it may be falling," he said.

"We must not let up, but people everywhere can take some small hope that our efforts together may be beginning to work – I put it no stronger than that, cases are still rising."

Mr Hancock also defended the 10pm curfew in pubs and restaurants but promised to do "whatever we can" to support the hospitality industry.

"I know that these measures are hard and they are yet another sacrifice after a year of so many sacrifices already, but there are some signs that what we are doing together to respond to these awful circumstances is starting to work," Mr Hancock said.

Professor Paul Elliott, director of the React study – the largest research of its kind in England – said the most recent data suggests the rate of infection is slowing, although the country remains at "a very critical period".

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We've seen the doubling time – from the last time we did the survey to now – has reduced to about 10 days... from seven to eight days, so that has been slowing.

"In the very recent data, it does seem to be that increases seem to be turning down, but from high levels of the virus.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

"So we really need to get the virus turning down and the R value going below one, and we haven't yet seen that.

"At the moment, we seem to be still at very high levels of the virus, and we do seem to still have a bit of an upward trajectory, but that very fast increase in the virus seems to have slowed and that's very encouraging."

He said there is "wide uncertainty" around the R number – which the study estimates to be around 1.1.

The research, based on the testing of more than 80,000 volunteers across England from September 18-26, found around one in 200 people were infected with coronavirus.

Around 55 people per 10,000 tested positive, an increase on the 13 people per 10,000 in the previous study between August 24 and September 7, suggesting 411,000 people in England have the virus.

New data from NHS Test and Trace shows that 38.1% of people who had an "in-person" test for Covid-19 in England in the week ending September 23 received their result in 24 hours – up from 28.2% the previous week but far short of the Prime Minister's target of 100% originally set for the end of June.

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who now chairs the Commons Health and Social Care Committee, said local lockdowns may have prevented the current second wave of infections from taking hold across the country.

He told the Today programme: "We didn't manage to do that first time round but it just may be that these local lockdowns – although we haven't seen a big reduction in transmission within those areas – they may just have contained it and stopped it from becoming the national outbreak that we had before."