People of the North East have expressed their relief at avoiding the dreaded Tier 3 lockdown restrictions which could have had an ‘astronomical’ impact on the hospitality sector.
The region was put into the high alert level (Tier 2) which bans people from meeting anyone not in their household or support bubble indoors – as per the current local lockdown restrictions.
But they can still meet outdoors as long as it’s within the ‘rule of six’ – including in private gardens, which is currently banned.
The Prime Minister launched the three-tier system of local lockdown alerts for England on Monday and placed the Liverpool city region in the most serious “very high” risk category from Wednesday.
It was feared the North East may have also been subject to the stricter Tier 3 measures which would have seen the area facing the closure of pubs and bars and a ban on social mixing indoors and in private gardens.
But council leaders fought to keep the existing measures, saying there has been a “slight decrease” in coronavirus infections in the region.
A statement on behalf of the North East council leaders says: “We were clear in our discussions with Government that stricter measures for our region would not be welcome and we are pleased this has been recognised in the Prime Minister’s announcement today.
“The data shows early promising signs in infection rates across the North East and it was imperative that the existing measures were given the necessary time to have the desired effect.
“The figures show a levelling off and slight decrease in infections for our region, and we want our communities to be given the chance to make the current arrangements work before further disruptive changes are introduced.
“While the Chancellor’s recent announcement of financial support for those areas facing the strictest levels of lockdown was welcome, our discussions with government will continue to push for businesses in our region to be given the backing they need to survive the months ahead, regardless of what tier we are in.
“We will also continue to work with government to develop a tracking and tracing system which capitalises on the local expertise and knowledge of our communities to help us fight the virus.”
There was an overriding sense of relief among residents in Newcastle city centre after discovering that more stringent restrictions were not being imposed across the North East.
Sophie Westlake, 23, a café manager from Newcastle, said: “I’m really pleased that we’re not shutting pubs and restaurants. I think it’s a bit irresponsible of the Government to threaten us with Tier 3 because I know lots of my friends work in hospitality and they haven’t been going out because they are scared to.
“Moving up to stricter restrictions could have killed off so many industries.
“If you take away the student population the number of cases are apparently falling. That’s what annoys me because if you’re going to open universities then you’re bound to get more cases.
“I don’t think the hospitality sector is responsible for the rise in cases because there’s so many rules to follow. Kicking people out of the pubs at 10pm, they are then going to the shop and buying more drinks and going back to people’s houses where there’s no track and trace or controlled environment.”
Ben Rowall, 27, of South Shields, said: “I was a bit relieved after hearing the announcement. Tier 3 would have seen employment go through the roof.
“There’s plenty of places that have closed their doors due to Covid-19 and I think more would have joined them if stricter measures were brought in. It would have been astronomical.
“Many people in the hospitality sector are on minimum wage and I know the Government announced the support for two-thirds of your wage. But two-thirds of minimum wage isn’t enough to make ends meet.”
Kira Darling, 17, a Newcastle Sixth Form College student, said: “I don’t think we should have to go through another full lockdown again. We are just going to damage the economy of the North yet again and it’s going to create another divide and we’ll struggle.
“Mental health statistics have gone up and there should be more of a focus on these people. I think people have gone past the point of listening to the rules because they’re so confusing.
“None of it really makes sense. Nothing is improving no matter what the Government does. They opened everything up and encouraged people to eat out to help out but then young people get the blame for cases going up.”
The Prime Minister said new measures were needed because the number of cases has quadrupled in the last three weeks, with more people now in hospital with Covid-19 than when the country went into a national lockdown on March 23.
Mr Johnson defended the approach adopted by the Government in attempting to keep much of the economy open while curbing the spread of the virus.
People in Newcastle were pleased to see bars and restaurants able to continue operating.
Sam Preston, 24, of South Shields, said: “I think it would have been stupid to close the bars and restaurants as I feel safer there than I do at the supermarket.
“So many places would have closed if we had been put in Tier 3. If you’re being safe and people around you are wearing face masks I don’t think there’s much of a chance of you catching coronavirus.”
Jay Gilmour, 18, a student at Newcastle College, said: “I’m happy that the North East will be in the Tier 2. It doesn’t shut me away, I’m very friends dependent. Not having them takes a big mental health toll on me.
“At the moment the infection rate is going up so high because of the university students. There’s been fewer deaths so I think it would be a daft idea to shut everything down again as so many jobs would be lost.”
Naomi Ali, 16, a student at Newcastle College, said: “I think it’s stupid that the fact you can only go out if there’s going to be money involved for the economy to get back on its feet.
“People are dying and the number of cases have spiked massively in the area this month.
“I think everyone has had enough of it all now. If they shut pubs and bars people will still go out.”
Council leaders in the region are urging residents against complacency with the threat of eventually being moved into the third tier looming large if cases keep rising.
They said: “Clearly, there is still a long way to go and the fact we have avoided the most severe level of restrictions should not be taken as a sign we are in the clear. We must not get complacent.
“The threat of the virus has not diminished, and we need every single person in our region to do their bit to prevent it from ripping through our communities.
“If we are to beat Covid-19 and protect our most vulnerable residents, we need everybody to follow the restrictions in place, avoid gatherings and mixing indoors with other households, and maintain the ‘Hands, Face, Space’ public health guidance at all times.
“Failing to do this will see infection rates rise further and, inevitably, harsher and more damaging restrictions being imposed upon us.”