Mounting pressure for national lockdown as majority of Yorkshire to be under strict coronavirus rules from next week

The majority of Yorkshire will be under more stringent coronavirus measures from next week as it was announced West Yorkshire would enter Tier 3 of the measures on Monday.

By Geraldine Scott
Thursday, 29th October 2020, 7:40 pm
Updated Thursday, 29th October 2020, 7:46 pm

The majority of Yorkshire will be under more stringent coronavirus measures from next week as it was announced West Yorkshire would enter Tier 3 of the measures on Monday.

Leaders in West Yorkshire tonight said it was “with great reluctance” that they had agreed with the Government to bring in the rules, which will ban the mixing of households both outdoors and indoors, except in very specific public places and circumstances, and force the closure of pubs which do not serve food.

It means from Monday some 3.72m people across West and South Yorkshire will be under the strictest of measures.

A social distancing sign in Leeds city centre, West Yorkshire, where tougher lockdown measures will be introduced locally after a rise in coronavirus infections. Photo: PA

While it was also revealed today that Hull and the East Riding would join York under Tier 2 measures, banning households meeting indoors.

North Yorkshire, excluding York, remains the only part of the region under Tier 1, where only the rule of six applies, but this was reported as “hanging by a thread” on Thursday, with the expectation that the area will also move to Tier 2 measures soon.

But Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said the Government will “try everything in our power” to avoid a “blanket national lockdown”.

Leaders in West Yorkshire tonight expressed their regret at the move, as Calderdale council leader Tim Swift said it was an “unwelcome step in what has been an unrelenting period of upset”.

While Bradford leader Susan Hinchcliffe hit out at the financial package offered by Government.

Some £46.6m has been negotiated for the region in addition to the Tier 2 funding already agreed, bringing the total to £59.3m.

It has been described as “a major policy shift” by the Government to add funding on top of what was promised for Tier 2, and will now benefit all the authorities that enter into Tier 3.

But Ms Hinchcliffe said: “There is a ‘template’ of funding available from Government to support these businesses but I do not think it will be enough. Neither were Government in the mood to give us more.

“Government are seriously underestimating the economic impact of these measures and we in West Yorkshire will challenge them to improve upon them.”

Karl Turner, Labour MP for Hull East, expressed similar concerns about the Tier 2 support in his constituency.

He said the rules were “not strong enough to have a significant effect on driving down the R rate locally and are disproportionately difficult for the hospitality sector”.

And he added: “I am also deeply frustrated that despite higher levels of deprivation, Hull is to receive the same level of additional support as the East Riding. I have made that clear to Government ministers and will continue to fight for a fair deal for Hull.”

Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake told a briefing this evening: “This is a very difficult decision for anyone to take. We recognise the economic impact it will have. We need to take measures with regard to our hospital admissions.

“This is a significant moment for Leeds and West Yorkshire in moving forward and tackling the virus.”

The measures will be reviewed after 28 days, but leaders said they still do not know the Government’s criteria for exiting lockdown measures.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said today: “We continue to see a worrying rise in cases right across the country, and it is clear decisive action is needed.”

He added: “These restrictions are challenging for us all, but it is only by working together and following the rules that we will bring down the rates of infection. A failure to act now will only lead to longer disruption and greater economic damage.”

But Tracy Brabin, Labour MP for Batley and Spen said she did not believe putting West Yorkshire, where her constituency lies, into Tier 3 was “the right step”.

She said: “Tier 3 will inevitably mean more damage to our local economy and an impact on loneliness and wellbeing.

“This is concerning when there is no clear evidence that Tier 3 will work in bringing the level of Covid-19 infection down.”

Tory MPs Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) and Mark Eastwood (Dewsbury) said they were disappointed by the move.

It comes as the Government’s three-tier system is being called into doubt, with the NHS Test and Trace system recording its highest ever weekly number of positive cases and a study by Imperial College London finding that almost 100,000 people are catching Covid-19 every day.

Experts are suggesting a more national approach is needed to address the soaring infection rate, and Home Secretary Priti Patel said the Government would not rule anything out.

As France enters a second lockdown from Friday and Germany imposes a four-week partial lockdown, there is pressure on the UK Government to be “tougher and quicker” in its response.

The latest data from the Test and Trace system shows that a total of 126,065 people tested positive for Covid-19 at least once in the week to October 21 – an increase of 23 per cent in positive cases on the previous week and the highest weekly number since the programme began at the end of May.

The Government said a further 280 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of today, and as of 9am today there had been a further 23,065 lab-confirmed cases in the UK.

New data from NHS England also showed that the number of hospital beds in England occupied by confirmed coronavirus patients had more than doubled in two weeks from 4,105 on October 13 to 8,595 on Tuesday.

Asked if she would rule out another national lockdown, Ms Patel said: “Well I think at this stage of course we can rule nothing out because we are a Government that is focused on making sure that we stop the spread of this virus and also (that) we protect public health.

“So we have been using, and we are using and we will continue to use, every single means available to us to do exactly that.”

But earlier, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said the Government’s “very firm view” is that a short national “circuit-breaker” lockdown would be the wrong approach, saying “you can’t have a stop-start country”.

Government scientific adviser Dr Mike Tildesley has said more national restrictions are needed, with the current trajectory likely to put nearly everywhere in Tier 2 before Christmas.

The University of Warwick researcher, who sits on the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We are seeing the R number is greater than one everywhere. And, in a sense, some kind of national lockdown, a circuit-breaker or something along those lines, would actually have more effect in those parts of the country that have not yet progressed into Tier 2.

“R is greater than one everywhere and if we don’t take urgent action, we’re most likely to see that as we’re approaching the festive period, we’re probably going to be at least in Tier 2 pretty much everywhere in the country.

“So really we need to move away from these regional firefighting techniques to try to move to something more national.”

Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College London, said there would be “genuine benefits to some kind of national policy”.

He told the Today programme: “There has to be a change. The rate of growth that we’re seeing in these data is really quite rapid. So one way or another, there has to be a change before Christmas.”

Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, said politicians must be ready to make tough decisions early rather than late.

She added: “Given the rising rates of infection and growing pressures on bed occupancy, we would urge the Government to take a cautious and pre-emptive approach, which means being tougher and quicker in its response.”