Leaders in the north of England have warned further coronavirus restrictions would have a “devastating” effect on the country and the overall regional economy.
Their comments come as Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to make a statement to MPs on Monday amid expectations that a three-tier local lockdown system will be introduced across England.
Doctors have also accused the government of “letting down its guard” and said “inconsistent” messaging since the nationwide lockdown was lifted had played a part in the resurgence of the virus.
The British Medical Association (BMA) said clearer, stronger measures are needed to halt the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak – and published a wish list of recommendations, calling for face masks to be mandatory indoors and outdoors.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused the government of “serial incompetence” in its economic approach to the coronavirus crisis.
Speaking at a Co-operative Party virtual conference, he said: “At the moment, amongst my concerns is that the government hasn’t really got any anchors. It’s bobbing all over the place.”
The three-tier system – known as Local COVID Alert Levels – are expected to be medium, high and very high.
Under a very high alert, pubs and bars would have to shut, but not restaurants.
In a joint letter to the chancellor and health and housing secretaries on Friday, mayors and councillors said another lockdown will result in the “levelling down” of the region and “undo the good work we have done over the last decade to improve the fortunes of our people”.
They said: “We remain to be convinced that further restrictions that involve closing businesses would be the most effective way of tackling the virus, particularly when the health of our economy, people’s jobs and livelihoods are at stake.
“Therefore, we are concerned by rumours in the media that we might be pushed into Level 3 of a new system set to be introduced, without any discussion or consultation, or without adequate economic measures put in place to support affected people and businesses.”
Fresh measures could be implemented in the northwest of England as soon as Wednesday because of rising cases of COVID-19, Sky News understands.
A number of possibilities were outlined during a telephone meeting between local leaders and Westminster figures, including the prime minister’s chief strategic adviser Sir Edward Lister, on Friday.
Sources from the meeting have told Sky News the government proposed advice which would stop people travelling in and out of the worst-hit areas.
The expected measures in the north of England come as Fiona Lemmens, chair of the NHS Liverpool Clinical Commissioning Group, said the situation in the city’s Aintree and the Royal hospitals is “very concerning”.
“All of the indicators are that the situation is going to get worse over the next two to three weeks as our current high community transmission rates convert into hospital admissions,” she said.
“The age of affected patients is much higher in Liverpool than elsewhere in the North West so we can expect to see growing demand for hospital and Intensive Therapy Unit beds.”
Her concerns were echoed by Dr Susan Hopkins, deputy director of Public Health England’s national infection service, who told Sky News the increase among the over-60s in Liverpool is “worrying”.
Asked whether people flouting the rules was in part to blame for an increase in transmissions across England, she replied: “Overall, people have shifted their behaviour… and the vast majority, more than 70%, want to do the right thing.”
She said the most important step people can take is to reduce contact with others.
The developments come amid concerns an expansion of the UK-wide Job Support Scheme, announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, may not go far enough.
Workers at businesses forced to close because of stricter lockdown measures will have two-thirds of their salaries paid by the government.
Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester, Jamie Driscoll, mayor of North Tyne, Dan Jarvis, mayor of the Sheffield City region, and Steve Rotheram, mayor of the Liverpool City region, said: “On first look, it would not appear to have gone far enough to prevent genuine hardship, job losses and business failure this winter.”
They and other northern leaders will be meeting on Saturday to discuss the idea “in more detail”.
Mel Green, manager of The Black Bull in Otley, West Yorkshire, said two-thirds of somebody’s wage “isn’t going to cut it”.
The pub trade is one in which “everyone’s on national minimum wage pretty much”, and a lot of staff “are living hand to mouth already and they’ve already had hours reduced”, she said.
Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds told Sky News: “The really critical thing is the economic support needs to be moving in step with those public health measures. We have not had that until now.”
The Labour MP urged the chancellor to go further due to “the quite worrying levels of unemployment” across the UK, “particularly in those areas subject to more restrictions”.
In the regular daily update, another 13,864 coronavirus cases and a further 87 deaths were announced across the UK on Friday.
Five of the 22 European regions with the highest coronavirus infection rates are in the north of England, Sky News analysis has found.
And the UK’s coronavirus reproduction (R) number has decreased slightly to a maximum of 1.5, according to the latest government figures.
On Sophy Ridge on Sunday tomorrow from 8.30am watch Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick, shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Reynolds and former Labour communications chief Alastair Campbell