Boris Johnson is expected to place Liverpool under tough coronavirus rules today as he announces a new tiered local lockdown system amid fraying relations with leaders in the north.
The prime minister will chair a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee to finalise new interventions to curb the virus, having briefed cabinet ministers last night. He will then make a statement in the Commons before hosting a televised press conference at about 6pm with Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, and Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England. MPs will be asked to debate and vote on the measures this week.
The strictest of the three new alert levels, labelled “very high”, is expected to entail the closure of pubs, bars, casinos and gyms.
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Ministers have decided to focus on closing “drinking-led” establishments while allowing restaurants to remain open, according to one cabinet source. There was some confusion last night, though, as reports claimed that restaurants may be closed with only takeaway meals allowed.
The strongest measures will be implemented for four weeks at a time before being reviewed, while local leaders will be offered the opportunity to go further with their own measures, it is understood.
Curbs on households mixing, and strong guidance against making non-essential trips out of the local area, are also expected to be included in the “very high” alert level. Travel for work and school will still be permitted.
Liverpool is regarded as the worst coronavirus hotspot because of its high rate of Covid-related hospital admissions, and it is expected to be placed in the highest category today. It is unclear when the measures would take effect. Greater Manchester and Lancashire are expected to avoid the designation for now.
Local leaders and MPs in Greater Manchester are resisting being placed in the “very high” alert level, arguing that outbreaks are largely contained among student populations. Two Tory MPs and five Labour MPs in the region issued public statements yesterday warning that they would not support the closure of the hospitality businesses.
Sacha Lord, Greater Manchester’s night-time economy adviser, has started legal proceedings to challenge the government’s closure of hospitality settings across parts of the north of England. He has claimed that discussions and calls for evidence have been ignored. The lowest tier, labelled the “medium” alert level, will be based on nationwide rules, and the “high” alert level is expected to limit households mixing.
Yesterday the prime minister spoke to Steve Rotheram, the Labour metro mayor for the Liverpool city region, following detailed discussions between all the region’s leaders. Government sources said that Mr Rotheram was viewed as being “constructive”.
Last night Mr Rotheram said on Twitter: “No agreement has yet been reached with government and negotiations are ongoing.” He said that new restrictions must come with financial support to protect jobs and businesses.
Joe Anderson, the Labour mayor of Liverpool, said that local leaders had not agreed a deal over a new lockdown but added: “We have been told this is what government intends to do with ‘no buts’. ” The measures are expected to cover the Liverpool city region, which has a population of about 1.5 million people, includes the city of Liverpool and the boroughs of Halton, Knowsley, Sefton, St Helens and Wirral.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, has claimed that hospitals in the north of England face being overwhelmed without restrictions being put in place. A Downing Street spokesman said: “We must do everything we can to protect the NHS and make sure it can continue to deliver the services so many people rely on.”