Businesses across the Liverpool City Region have been told to expect a lockdown on Friday, with the new restrictions similar to those imposed in the North East.
Matt Ashton, the city’s director of public health, told business leaders from across Merseyside he expects restrictions announced by the Government on Friday to include new rules on households being unable to mix, and hospitality venues closing earlier at night.
Speaking at the monthly Liverpool Visitor Economy Panel hosted by the Liverpool BID company on Thursday, Mr Ashton said firms should not be surprised if similar measures are brought in – with the number of cases across many parts of Merseyside and the North West actually higher than those in the North East.
He also said he thought extra measures may be introduced in to protect vulnerable people in care homes – as well as clampdowns on sporting and cultural events.
Mr Ashton said: “We have seen a really rapid increase in the number of positive Covid cases in Liverpool in the last two weeks.
“Back in July, the number of cases we were getting was about 14 a week. Yesterday, our rolling seven-day increase was 530. That is a big increase. That is concerning not just because of the number of cases, but how it’s rapidly increased.
“We’ve been working with partners across the city including the visitor economy network right the way through the pandemic to give information, advice and support about how businesses should be operating as safely as possible in order to prepare for the situation that we now find ourselves in.
“This is a large number of cases right the way across the city. This is a pretty serious situation now. Our rate per 100,000 now is just under 107.
“Government operates to thresholds. If you are above 100, you are an area of intervention.”
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For firms in Northumberland, Newcastle, Sunderland, North and South Tyneside, Gateshead and County Durham, restaurants will only be able to offer table service and hospitality venues will be required to shut between 10pm and 5am under the new temporary measures announced on Thursday.
Mr Ashton said: “I am concerned about where we are. We are in discussion with Government about what the next steps are, and we are expecting a series of measures to be announced [on Friday].
“The North East [had just announced] their measures, and I don’t know what measures will be announced for us.
“But I would expect whatever happens to be in line with what’s being announced in the North East.
“For broader context, the rate of infection we are seeing in the North West is higher than the rate in the North East. The fact the North East is doing something makes me think it’s highly suggestive that whatever they do, the North West will follow.”
Referring to exactly what firms across the city should expect, he explained: “It isn’t national lockdown mark two.
“It won’t be as strong as that, but I’m certain there will be measures, and those measures are likely to be no inter-household mixing. That doesn’t mean that no one is ever allowed out. People will still go to work and school – and I’m certain shops and businesses will be allowed to stay open, but it’s about the mixing and close proximity part that’s so important.”
He said other potential restrictions could affect vulnerable groups, and care homes taking “extra precautions” to protect them.
Speaking about restaurants, bars and pubs, he added: “What we’ve seen in the North East and Bolton is restrictions on operating hours of certain businesses – potentially to a drive-thru, more takeaway-style rather than indoors – because clearly the more people who are indoors, the higher the risk is.
“Finally, there might be something around sport and cultural activities. The government has been gradually increasing the amount that’s allowed to happen, especially that with an audience.
“I’m expecting that the crowds bit probably won’t be allowed locally, certainly for the immediate future.”
Mr Ashton added: “Even though this is bad, it isn’t all doom and gloom, because the point about this is trying to control the infection at early a stage as possible to keep us all safe and to keep our city, businesses and economy safe.
“This isn’t either/or. If we haven’t got health and wellbeing we haven’t got people out and about, we haven’t got a local economy, so it’s important we do that for everybody.
“The sooner we take the necessary steps to pull the level of infection down, the sooner we’ll be out of this and the sooner we’ll get back to whatever normal looks like post-pandemic.
“This isn’t something we can put off. The sooner we do it, the bigger chance we have of getting on top of it.”