A statement on behalf of nine council and other leaders in the north-east of England pleaded for tougher nationwide restrictions as the nation battles a more virulent strain of COVID-19. It said: “Our view is that the Government should consider a national lockdown now to ensure the spread of the new variant is slowed and efforts can be focussed on the crucial roll-out of the vaccine. This is a national problem and a national solution is required now. After a disrupted Christmas the last thing any of us wanted was further restrictions as we enter 2021 but sadly we feel this is the only sensible option to protect our health and care services and the most vulnerable in our communities.”
The statement added: “We will continue to press Government for fair decisions and continue to seek strengthened business support to help businesses potentially affected by further measures and continue work with ministers on how best to deploy targeted community testing to open our economy, while seeking localisation of the national test and trace programme.”
Signatories to the statement were: leader of Durham County Council Simon Henig; leader of Gateshead Council Martin Gannon; leader of Newcastle City Council Nick Forbes; North Tyneside Council elected mayor Norma Redfearn; Northumberland County Council leader Glen Sanderson; South Tyneside Council leader Tracey Dixon; Sunderland City Council leader Graeme Miller; North of Tyne mayor Jamie Driscoll and Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness.
Meanwhile, Colin Cox, director of public health for Cumbria, which will move from Tier 2 to Tier 4, argued decisive action was urgently required in the north of England.
He said: “The very latest data indicates that the number of new infections is increasing in all of our six districts, especially in Eden and Carlisle.
“The rate of spread as a result of the new strain is exceptionally quick and this is why decisive and immediate action is required.
“As a result of the spike in numbers hospitals across the country remain under intense pressure and it is simply not sustainable for numbers in hospital to remain at these levels so it’s vital that action is taken now to try and reduce the spread.”
He urged residents to familiarise themselves with Tier 4 restrictions.
He added: “I would also encourage people to remain vigilant and follow the rules. Keep doing the simple things that really do make a difference – maintain social distancing, wear face coverings and wash your hands.”
Dr Sakthi Karunanithi, director of public health for Lancashire, said: “We are at a critical point in this pandemic and I would urge everyone to play their part to stop the spread.
“The restrictions in Tier 4 will mean even more disruption to people’s lives, and I know that this decision will bring hardship to many.
“However it is vital we get the virus under control and bring down the number of people being infected and having to be admitted to hospital.
“Tragically we are still seeing many people lose their lives as a result of this virus.
“There is hope. Already hundreds of people in Lancashire have been vaccinated, and today’s announcement about another type of vaccine is very welcome.”
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Leader of Manchester City Council Sir Richard Leese said: “The new strain of coronavirus is cause for concern and the enhanced restrictions should be followed judiciously to limit the spread of the variant, which we know passes more readily between people.
“The prospect of Tier 4 will be received once again as a critical blow to the city’s hospitality industry – along with wider retailers who will also now need to close – and whose resilience to the economic impact of the virus is wearing ever thin.
“It is clear that businesses will not be able to survive indefinitely if they are forced to close.
“Remember that Manchester has been living with enhanced restrictions since March with little respite, and the key question is what further support can businesses expect from Government if they are asked to continue to shut up shop at a crucial time in their trading year?”