UK unveils three-level lockdown plan; Liverpool at highest risk

UK unveils three-level lockdown plan; Liverpool at highest risk

The British government carved England into three tiers of coronavirus risk in a bid to slow a resurgent outbreak, putting the northern city of Liverpool into the highest risk category and shutting its pubs, gyms and betting shops.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday the three-tier national system was designed to “simplify and standardise” a confusing patchwork of local rules about what residents can and cannot do. Johnson said shops, schools and universities would remain open in all areas.

He told politicians in the House of Commons the goal was to save lives and prevent hospitals becoming overwhelmed without “shuttering our lives and our society” through a new national lockdown.

But pubs, restaurants and other businesses are pushing back, arguing they are not to blame for rising infections.

After falling during the past months, coronavirus cases have risen in the United Kingdom as winter approaches with northwest and northeast England seeing the steepest increases. Liverpool has one of the country’s most severe outbreaks with more than 600 cases per 100,000 people, even more than the hard-hit European cities of Madrid and Brussels.

England’s deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van-Tam, said while northern England has the highest infection rates, cases are on the rise across the country.

Infections have risen most rapidly among older teenagers and young adults, who generally suffer mild symptoms, but are spreading to older and more at-risk groups. “This is a nationwide phenomenon now,” Van-Tam said.

Under the new measures, areas in England are classified at medium, high or very high risk and placed under restrictions of varying severity.

Areas in the lowest tier will follow existing national restrictions, including a 10pm curfew on pubs and restaurants and a ban on more than six people gathering. In areas at high risk, members of different households are barred from meeting indoors.

The “very high” risk tier will face restrictions including closing pubs and, if local authorities want, other venues such as gyms and casinos.

Liverpool was the only area put into the top category on Monday, but Johnson said authorities were still talking with other local leaders across the north of England.

Under the new measures, pubs, gyms, leisure centres, betting shops and casinos in Liverpool will close beginning on Wednesday.

‘Wasn’t listened to’

Liverpool Mayor Steve Rotheram said his city and others will need financial support and must know exactly what the exit strategy would be from the measures, which are set to be reviewed after a month.

The city’s other elected mayor, Joe Anderson, said local authorities supported tougher restrictions as long as they were accompanied by improved test-and-trace measures to suppress clusters of infections – something he said the government had agreed to.

“As well as protecting lives and doing things to tackle the virus, we also need to protect livelihoods, so we argued really strongly for a stronger financial package,” said Anderson, a member of the opposition Labour Party. “Unfortunately, that wasn’t listened to.”

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said he doubted the new measures would go far enough to “get control of this virus, to protect jobs or retain public trust”.

The UK has experienced Europe’s deadliest outbreak with an official death toll of 42,875.

The government has announced a support package to pay two-thirds of the salaries of employees of companies that are told to close, but many in the pub and restaurant sector say that is not enough to save already struggling businesses.

Bar and restaurant owners say the government has not shared any evidence backing up the claim they are the major transmission sources of the virus.

“There is angst about the level of compensation that is being offered. Many of the pubs, businesses in these areas that are being forced to close are saying that the two-thirds of the salary which is being offered by the government as compensation for those who are having to be laid off by these closures simply does not cover it,” said Al Jazeera’s Paul Brennan, reporting from London.

“We have heard from the metropolitan mayor from the regional mayor of Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield saying people don’t have the option of paying just two-thirds of their rent or their mortgage or bills, therefore, why is two-thirds of their salary being seen as an adequate recompense for the government shutting down their business.”

Health officials said the UK is at a tipping point in the outbreak with strong action needed to prevent hospitals being overwhelmed at a time of year when they are already at their busiest with flu and other winter illnesses.

“The outbreak is a bit like a super-tanker,” Callum Semple, professor of outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool and a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, told the BBC. “You put the brakes on, but it takes a long time before you see the effect.”

The measures announced on Monday apply to England. The rest of the UK is under similar, and sometimes tougher, restrictions. In Scotland’s two biggest cities, Glasgow and Edinburgh, pubs have been closed for 16 days to suppress the outbreak.