As the spectre of a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic haunts the UK, more and more areas have had local lockdowns imposed, with parts of the north east being the latest area to face new restrictions.
Covering a population of nearly 2m people, the new restrictions will apply to Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Gateshead, Sunderland and County Durham, while Teesside will not be affected.
The new measures, which go into effect from midnight on Friday (September 18) include a curfew on bars, pubs and other entertainment venues from 10pm, and a ban on anyone in one household or support bubble mixing with another.
Food and drink in all hospitality establishments will be restricted to table service only.
Health secretary Matt Hancock made the latest lockdown announcement today (September 17) in the House of Commons.
“Like many other countries around the world, we’re continuing to see a concerning rise in cases with 3,991 new cases recorded yesterday,” he warned.
“And this week the number of patients in mechanical ventilator beds has risen above 100 for the first time since July. The battle against coronavirus is not over.”
The health secretary came under criticism from Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth, who said that local lockdowns would not be necessary if the government had an effective test and trace system up and running.
“The British people made great sacrifices, they missed family celebrations, they couldn’t say their final goodbyes to loved ones at funerals but the British people honoured their side of the bargain,” Ashworth said.
“In return, the government was supposed to deliver effective testing and tracing. The government failed and we have vast swathes of the country under restrictions.”
Indeed, UniteLIVE highlighted on Wednesday (September 16) the various problems faced by the UK’s present testing regime, which now faces a massive backlog under the auspices of privatised labs.
The latest restrictions imposed on the north east mean that now in total, about 10m people across the UK face some form of lockdown restrictions.
Concerns have also been raised over mixed public messages over local lockdowns – with different restrictions imposed in different localities. For example, lockdown restrictions in Birmingham at present allow people to mix with other households in bars and restaurants up to a maximum group of six, meanwhile in the north east from midnight on Friday they cannot.
Unite regional secretary for the North East, Yorkshire and Humber region Karen Reay expressed concerns over this potential for confusion.
“Our biggest concern is people’s health and well-being,” she said. “While we welcome any measures taken to ensure our communities’ safety, so far there hasn’t been any continuity or leadership from government regarding local lockdowns and restrictions – and this risks sending confusing, mixed messages,” she said.
“Can people take public transport or not? Can people go to work or should they work from home? What if they can’t work from home? These are some of the questions people across the north-east and other regions will be asking as new restrictions are imposed.
“There’s very little clarity from this government, one that appears to be making things up as they go along in every respect amid this pandemic – from their failing testing regime, to their bungling of an efficient contact tracing system, to botched PPE provision and much more in between.”
The latest lockdown restrictions imposed in the north east come as this week, the potential for a curfew in London was mooted by professor Kevin Fenton, who serves as London director of Public Health England.
In an interview with the Evening Standard Fenton said, “In some areas which have seen resurgence there have been limits placed on the amount of time you can spend socialising. In some it might be local curfews so you’re not out drinking until the wee hours of the morning.
“By limiting that you also limit the amount of time people are spending in close contact with others.”
Responding to the interview with Professor Fenton, Unite secretary for the London and Eastern region Pete Kavanagh said,“Key to avoiding more draconian measures in the capital, such as curfews, is ensuring that the current rules on social distancing and mask wearing are adhered to properly.
“Professor Fenton was right to say that everyone has their part to play in this and Londoners have already gone to extraordinary lengths to quell the virus’ spread,” he added.
“However, not everyone will obey the rules, and for the safety of the public and for workers who have frontline roles, there needs to be a far greater emphasis on enforcing key measures. This is especially true for transport, hospitality and shop workers who cannot be expected to enforce the rules,” Kavanagh went on to say.
“As we head into winter and the risk of a second wave increases, the government must ensure that the so-called Covid ‘marshals’ have the resources behind them to do their jobs properly. In workplaces, we need more inspections and fines on employers who are not safeguarding their employees, coupled with firms and the authorities working with trade union health and safety reps to keep outbreaks at bay.
“We must ensure that everything possible is done to keep the virus under control before implementing curfews and other severe infection control measures that will further hurt people’s living standards and the economy.”
By Hajera Blagg