STRICTER lockdown restrictions have been announced for Wirral and across the rest of Merseyside as coronavirus cases rise.

The measures, announced this morning by Heath Secretary Matt Hancock, come less than two weeks after the region was placed in local lockdown, following a sharp rise in coronavirus cases.

The measures are the same as those imposed in the North East of England.

So what does it mean?

From 00.01 on Saturday morning people must not meet anyone outside their household or bubble in any indoor setting, including private homes and gardens.

These measures will be enforceable by law and subject to fines. 

It is also recommended that:

  • People do not meet with anyone outside their household or bubble in outdoor public spaces, such as parks and outdoor hospitality.
  • You do not visit friends or family in care homes, other than in exceptional circumstances. Care homes should restrict visits to these circumstances.
  • You only take holidays within your household group or support bubble.
  • Avoid attending amateur and semi-professional sporting events as spectators.

Schools and covid-secure settings are not affected and remain open.

Travel is only advised for essential reasons, such as going to work, school or to get to other Covid-secure settings, and people are encouraged to walk or cycle where possible.

Government funding will also be provided to councils to support them in their work during the crisis. 

Authority's view: 

The six-council leaders on Liverpool City Region Combined Authority - including Wirral Council's Janette Williamson - had warned yesterday that potential new Covid-19 restrictions aimed at halting the virus' spread would deal a hammer blow to the region's economy.

In a joint statement today, they said the measures were "a step in the right direction", adding: "Our first priority is to protect the health and wellbeing of the 1.6 million people that we represent.  

"It's absolutely right that we do everything we can to stop the spread of Coronavirus and keep as many people as safe as possible.

"Over the past few days, we have engaged in talks with minsters over their proposals for greater restrictions. 

"We need to understand whether they are enough to really address the escalating cases in our city region. 

"Therefore, we are requesting that the Government provide us with the scientific evidence so we can understand if these measures will be sufficient to prevent the spread of the virus.   

"In addition, we are also aware that, without appropriate financial support from the government, restrictions will damage businesses and industries – in many cases irretrievably – when in normal times they are perfectly viable. 

"Our region is an international destination, and our visitor economy is worth almost £5bn to the city region economy every year and employs over 50,000 people. 

"Over recent years, our hospitality and retail industries have been vibrant and growing. But we have already seen some businesses go under in the face of COVID and, without Government assistance over the past few months, many more would have followed.  

“These new restrictions mean that we will also need an immediate substantial additional package of economic support from the Government urgently and, so far, it is not clear that this is being provided. 

“We will now seek further urgent talks with the Government on these measures, any further measures, and what their response is to our request for a financial support package."

Hancock's reasoning:

Announcing the measures in the House of Commons, Mr Hancock said: "In some parts of the country the virus is spreading fast.

"Today I am extending these measures that have been in place in the North East since the start of this week to the Liverpool City Region, Warrington, Hartlepool and Middlesborough.

"We will provide £7m of funding to local authorities in these areas to support them with their vital work.

"The rules will be as follows, 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."

MP reacts

In response to the announcement, Wallasey Labour MP Angela Eagle said: "It is enormously frustrating that the Government have given MPs less than 24 hours' notice for these new restrictions and due to the social distancing requirements and ballot system in the House of Commons, no Merseyside MPs were able to be present for the statement to question the Health Secretary.

"We have asked for the Government to urgently provide the evidence and data behind these decisions to introduce stricter measures.

"The Government are using local lockdowns as a first response to a rise in cases without putting in place any increased testing.

"The test and trace programme so far has been woefully inadequate and is not sufficient to deal with localised outbreaks.

"The £7 million announced today for local councils to deal with the increased restrictions is simply not enough and Labour MPs have called for a far more substantial financial package to be introduced for the area, especially with the ending of the furlough scheme.

"I completely understand the need for additional measures to be brought in, but the Government’s chaotic approach risks people’s livelihoods and their lives.

"It simply isn’t good enough".

Yesterday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would not hesitate to impose new restrictions to halt the virus' spread, if deemed necessary. 

He told BBC Breakfast: "We've already been told there will be restrictions and regulations put in place similar to Newcastle and the North East, so we expect that, but potentially also the Government might introduce even stricter measures."

Meanwhile, a large-scale study has found evidence that the measures introduced in the North East and North West of England are having an effect.

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 the BBC Radio 4 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.

"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 reproductive number – 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.

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