Plea to Prime Minister to do right thing for regions in pandemic roadmap

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been urged to outline a coherent roadmap to steer the country out of its latest lockdown when he announces the Government’s proposals on Monday, February 22.

Businesses and political leaders from the region say it is vitally important to get the policy right to ensure the best recovery for the economy, and also peoples’ wellbeing following months of restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Today, (February 19) UnitedCity, the private sector campaigning and research group set up by business leaders in Greater Manchester, appealed to the PM to work with the private sector to bring about as near a return to normality as possible.

It said: “The current national mood would suggest that this lockdown has mentally been a lot more challenging for people than previous lockdowns and restrictions have been.

“As such, the Government needs to bring a sense of confidence, clarity and calm to Monday’s announcement, and take this opportunity to offer a concrete vision for how ‘normality’ can safely start to return.”

It said placing the country back into the unclear and ineffective tiering system would be a step backwards, and could, potentially, spark panic and further fatigue, arguing that people now need to see and feel a light at the end of the tunnel, as the UK approaches nearly 12 months of the pandemic disrupting our lives and livelihoods.

“We would suggest that the Government work with businesses on a COVID-secure plan to reopen the economy with world class mass testing and track and trace systems supporting the incredible vaccination effort already rolled out across the country.

“The progress made recently with the vaccination programme has given a hopeful outlook for the coming months, and it is now up to the Government to use this momentum and optimism as a springboard to recovery – providing a clear and definitive roadmap for reopening on February 22, including opening hospitality and returning to the workplace in a safe and controlled way.”

UnitedCity has created its own manifesto which sets out the necessary measures it believes the Government, local leadership, and health and care bodies need to deliver on to enable a viable recovery. These include stimulus cheques for people who have had to self-isolate and lose income, an extension to VAT payment holidays, and more.

The organisation said: “For a city to successfully emerge from COVID, with its complex and interconnected communities and economy, it needs more than central government plans. It needs a dynamic partnership between local business, local public and voluntary sector leaders, and national government.

“We want to work with the Government to bring that to life in Manchester.

“Locally, we would ask for everyone in Manchester to play their part and do their bit responsibly, to enable us to open up in a gradual, but consistent way.

“Our city region has been in lockdown or under stricter restrictions for 302 of the last 365 days, which has been undeniably tough. If we work together, galvanised by strong, encouraging leadership, Manchester can hopefully enjoy the safe summer it richly deserves.”

Meanwhile, Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram has urged Boris Johnson not to return the country to the tier system.

In a letter, the Mayor has called on the Prime Minister not to throw away all of the progress made by peoples’ sacrifice and hard work during the latest lockdown and vaccine rollout.

Citing the region’s experiences over the festive period, when the Liverpool City Region was “an island amongst an ocean of higher risk areas,” Mayor Rotheram has warned that a return to such a patchwork set of restrictions risks a return to the confusion over restrictions that went before.

Over the New Year, the Liverpool City Region’s case figures shot up, with many pointing to the influx of outside visitors as a factor in that increase.

Steve Rotheram

In his letter, Mayor Rotheram warns: “The tier system was supposed to provide consistency and clarity on the restrictions imposed by government. But in practice the system helped to create chaos and confusion and undermine local efforts to tackle the virus.

“Our hard work meant that we were able to maintain our lower tier status in both the pre-and post-Christmas periods, while neighbouring areas found themselves placed into higher tiers. This resulted in a number of unforeseen problems.

“Our region became an island amongst an ocean of higher risk areas. People in neighbouring communities, understandably frustrated by having their freedoms curtailed, began to travel into our city region to enjoy the food, nightlife and culture that we are famous for.

“My office received countless complaints from members of the public and business owners alike, all concerned about the influx of people from higher risk areas. We were, unfortunately, powerless to do anything about it and I think it is no coincidence that our case rates and hospitalisations skyrocketed, with the likelihood that some of the exponential increases may have been caused through migration between the tier system.”

Now, as we move towards the easing of this latest set of restrictions, Mayor Rotheram implored Mr Johnson to review the evidence of the challenges encountered and re-examine the merits of the tier system.

“Too much hard work has gone into the vaccine roll-out and too much sacrifice made by people throughout this lockdown for us to throw all of that progress away, with what many experts suggest is a blunt instrument that brings with it its own set of challenges.”