Leader of England’s biggest council calls for immediate national lockdown

The leader of England’s biggest council has called for an immediate four-week national lockdown to prevent “avoidable deaths” and deeper economic damage.

Birmingham City Council leader Ian Ward called for the Government to “immediately” impose a “circuit-breaker” ahead of Christmas.

The city and wider West Midlands combined authority area has been widely mooted for a move to Tier 3 measures as soon as the end of next week, as infection rates continue to rise.

Talks will get under way on Monday between the area’s seven local authority leaders and the region’s Conservative mayor Andy Street on whether there will be a move to the highest level of local restrictions.

Any final decision on a Tier 3 move would be taken by the Government and is not expected to be announced until late next week, at the earliest.

Coronavirus – Thu Oct 29, 2020
Coronavirus – Thu Oct 29, 2020

But Mr Ward said: “The problem is the tier system just isn’t working.

“Areas in Tier 3 are still seeing rising cases.”

He added: “I am of the opinion England needs to follow France, Germany and Wales with a national circuit-breaker as quickly as possible.

“We must not repeat the mistake of last March in not moving soon enough.”

Speaking on a video call with journalists on Friday, Mr Ward said: “The circuit-breaker has the best chance in my view of driving rates down and gives the Government time to address the serious problems with the Serco test and trace system.

“I am not suggesting the Government imposes this and just crosses its fingers, it would be an opportunity to put things right and it would buy us valuable time.

“Delaying this decision will mean more avoidable deaths and only prolong the economic damage because the current system just doesn’t work.

“My view, when it emerged the Government had chosen to ignore calls for circuit-breaker in September, was that if the three-tier system didn’t work then the Government would have serious questions to answer.

“We’re now almost into November and the situation is now much worse.

“The Government must reconsider its position and agree to a circuit-breaker and put the right support in place for jobs and businesses.

“The latest data from test and trace shows that a total of 126,065 tested positive for Covid-19 in the week to October 21, a 23% increase on the previous increase and the highest weekly number since the programme began at the end of May.

“We now need a different approach and we need it immediately.”

Mr Street, the West Midlands mayor – who was also on the call – said he was “not proposing” a national lockdown but added it was clear more action was needed “to turn the tide”.

He said blanket England-wide measures would have “greater economic and social impacts”, and that differences between the best and worst infection case rate areas in the country were “equalising”.

He added: “There is evidence delay in the best areas is actually counter-productive.

Birmingham pub bombings
Birmingham pub bombings

“So whether it be a national four-week lockdown, I do not know, but what I do know is that the message is very clear: we have to take further action to turn this tide, and sooner rather than later.”

Clive Wright, regional Covid-19 convener, said next week’s discussions on areas more likely to move to Tier 3 would focus on Birmingham, Sandwell and Walsall.

He added infection case rates in each of the three local authority areas are either inside or above the key “threshold” of 250 to 300 cases per 100,000 people.

Birmingham is currently at 272 per 100,000, Sandwell at 295 and Walsall at 315.

He added there was also a case to include Wolverhampton and Solihull in discussions, where rates are slightly lower but rising.

Mr Wright said discussions would not look “at the numbers alone” but also the broader picture.

“It may well be the case we’ll be looking at the whole West Midlands combined authority area,” he added.

Mr Street added it was clear the virus “doesn’t respect” council boundaries and that it was likely a “West Midlands wide” approach would be considered.