Lancashire to stay in Tier 3 lockdown until next year, confirms Government
The whole of Lancashire will remain in Tier 3 lockdown until next year following a Government review of England's tier system today (Thursday, December 17).
Health secretary Matt Hancock has confirmed what the county had already expected - that Lancashire will now stay in Tier 3 until at least January, 2021.
It means pubs, bars and restaurants will stay closed in Lancashire and people should continue to avoid mixing socially indoors until the next review of the tier system.
The current measures will remain in place until December 23, when a five-day Christmas break will commence. During this period, three households will be allowed to form a festive bubble between Wednesday, December 23 and Sunday, December 27.
The Government said reviews of the different tiers would happen every two weeks, meaning the next review should take place on December 30, before a public announcement is made on New Year's Eve.
On Wednesday (December 16), the Government said a further 612 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 in the UK, while a further 25,161 lab-confirmed cases had been reported.
Reaction from Lancashire's leaders
Preston City Council leader Matthew Brown said he shared people's frustration with the ongoing Tier 3 restrictions, but has urged households to make an extra effort over Christmas to help reduce transmission of the virus.
He said: “We understand this decision by government will be greatly frustrating to our residents and businesses who have sacrificed so much this year in our fight against the virus.
"Unfortunately cases have not fallen to a sufficient degree to enable us to move down to Tier 2 and we’re especially concerned about rising case numbers in the over 60’s age group.
"As we live with these restrictions over the festive period I’d urge everyone to exercise caution if visiting loved ones to protect vulnerable people and reduce pressure on our health service.
"Winter is already a tough time for our NHS and any steps we can take to reduce the rate of infection will prevent our hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.
"We want to be in a strong position to leave Tier 3 as early as possible in the New Year.
"Our challenge is do everything we can to continue to lower the rates, in order to fully reopen our high street and support our hospitality sector.
"However at the same time, the onus is on government to demonstrate that that restrictions are fair and equitable and that the necessary support is in place for those industries must significantly affected by their decisions."
His disappointment is shared by council leaders in South Ribble and Blackpool, who say staying in Tier 3 until 2021 will be "devastating for the region."
Coun Foster said: "This is devastating for the region. Our businesses have been doing all they can to make sure they are sticking to the rules and making sure their businesses are Covid-safe, and to remain in Tier 3 over the Christmas period will truly be catastrophic for them.
"Our residents too have been making the ultimate sacrifice, to not spend time with their loved ones.
"We urged Government to review the case figures and make fair choices and I don’t think this has happened.
"I’m more than disappointed that the Government is not engaging or listening to us, or dealing with the real issues which are causing the virus to spread.
"I say this to our residents and businesses: as a Council we are behind you and we will do all we can to support you and to continue to lobby Government to change their mind.
"Let’s all do what we can now to get the rates down. Please remember: hands, face, space and hopefully we will be able to reduce our tier at the next review in two weeks’ time."
Cllr Lynn Williams, leader of Blackpool Council, said the Government must provide a "very clear and unambiguous route map" out of Tier 3 to ensure the resort's hospitality sector will recover in 2021.
She said: "It is disappointing that the Government is not willing to recognise the different circumstances within Lancashire.
"We are finding it increasingly difficult to understand how we can ever move into a lower tier if we are always going to be harnessed to other geographical areas.
"Our infection rates are significantly lower than when we were originally placed in Tier 3 and are now lower than places that are designated as Tier 2.
"Our argument throughout is that there should be a consistent and proportionate approach to the tier system, one that mitigates against the risk of increased infection but also one that allows our economy to open up in a safe and controlled manner.
"We have tourism businesses that were ready to reopen with COVID-safe shows and entertainment this weekend based on a much-improved situation. All of that time and effort has been wasted, and consumer confidence will once again ebb away.
“The tourism and hospitality industry simply cannot continue to function with this level of uncertainty, not knowing whether they should be planning for closure or planning for reopening.
"There might be sectors where economic activity can be turned on and off at a couple of days’ notice, tourism is not one of them.
"If our tourism and hospitality industry is to have any chance of recovery in 2021 the Government needs to set out a very clear and unambiguous route map that allows businesses to plan ahead."
Last week, Lancashire County Council's director of public health recommended that the County Hall-controlled area should remain in Tier 3.
Dr. Sakthi Karunanithi issued the advice at a meeting of local authority chiefs last Thursday (December 10) where he expressed his concern about the easing of restrictions over Christmas.
He said: "There is no single scientific reason to be off our guards during Xmas In Lancashire. Please enjoy a safe and healthy Christmas.
"Christmas relaxations are risky for Lancashire. I don’t want to be a killjoy, but I’m not here to be popular - I'm here to protect public health and to provide evidence-based advice.
"My message would be that we need to restrict our mixing as much as possible - we need to shop safely and share Christmas safely with our family members. You certainly don’t want to be sharing the virus with loved ones.
"Christmas is to be celebrated every year for life - not just for 2020," cautioned Dr. Karunanithi.
What about Christmas?
The temporary break in restrictions over Christmas has sparked debate between scientists and the Government, with differing advice on the best course of action to take over the Christmas period.
In a joint editorial from the British Medical Journal and Health Service Journal, the two medical journals said that the government could no longer claim to be protecting the NHS if it went ahead with its plans to allow up to three households to mix indoors over the Christmas period.
The leading journals said: "We believe the government is about to blunder into another major error that will cost many lives."
But Prime Minister Boris Johnson has defied calls to lessen the freedoms being granted over the festive season and has instead urged people to have a “smaller, safer” Christmas and avoid the elderly and vulnerable.
England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said studies of the latest data indicated looser restrictions over Christmas would lead to more deaths.
He urged: "Keep it small, keep it short, keep it local and think of the most vulnerable people."