Risk of North being 'levelled down' by combined health and economic coronavirus crisis, Labour leaders tell Keir Starmer

Local leaders from across the North have warned of a real danger the region will be “levelled down” if the Government does not hand over contact tracing to local authorities and provide more support for employees.

In a call with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer on Thursday, Labour council leaders and metro mayors from across areas under coronavirus restrictions, including in West Yorkshire, expressed their views on the communications with the Government.

Following new areas being added to the local lockdown list yesterday 22.4m people are now living under some sort of restrictions - 34 per cent of the UK population.

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A further four deaths were recorded in Yorkshire on Thursday in people who had previously tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the region’s total to at least 2,971. Nationally, 59 further deaths were reported, bringing the total to 42,202.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer held a Zoom meeting with council leaders and mayors in areas under local restrictions. Photo: PALabour leader Sir Keir Starmer held a Zoom meeting with council leaders and mayors in areas under local restrictions. Photo: PA
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer held a Zoom meeting with council leaders and mayors in areas under local restrictions. Photo: PA

And although the leader of a large-scale Covid-19 study suggested restrictions across the North of England may be pushing down the growth of the epidemic, leaders in locked down areas spoke of confusion and frustration.

Susan Hinchcliffe, leader of Bradford Council, said she had not spoken to either Health Secretary Matt Hancock or Prime Minister Boris Johnson directly about the local lockdown, and she added: “I seem to be at the end of a long line of communication and not in the room.”

While Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes said: “We’ve been done to rather than done with by Government when it comes to the additional restrictions.”

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Sir Keir said: “My strong view is that the Government has not involved local leaders on the ground in the way that it should have done, either bringing them in soon enough, providing the necessary information and evidence and involving local leaders meaningfully.”

But Mr Hancock said in the Commons that local leaders had been involved in decisions and the Department of Health and Social Care previously said it works “closely with local leaders and public health teams to inform decisions on local interventions, taking into account a range of factors”.

However Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham warned: “The North of England has been dealing with and is in the middle of the health crisis, and now the economic crisis is about to break over our heads simultaneously throughout the winter. And we are going to be levelled down in a massive way if things don’t change.”

Earlier in the day Professor Paul Elliott, director of the React study – the largest research of its kind in England – said new rules in the North appeared to be taking effect but warned that all age groups were contracting the virus.

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Prof Elliott told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that his study had found a seven-fold increase in the number of people carrying the virus at the age of 65 and over.

He added: “In the very recent data, and we’re talking about people who did swabs last Saturday, it does seem that the rate of increase of the infection may have slowed a bit.

“So that does suggest that perhaps some of the recent announcements and the biggest focus again on people paying attention to the public health message, which is social distancing, handwashing, face covers and getting tested if they have symptoms and then isolation, seems to be beginning to work.”

Prof Elliott said the numbers of people who now have the virus has “grown substantially” but the growth appeared to be slowing.

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“We’ve seen the doubling time – from the last time we did the survey to now – has reduced to about 10 days … from seven to eight days, so that has been slowing,” he said.

“In the very recent data, it does seem to be that increases seems to be turning down, but from high levels of the virus.

“So we really need to get the virus turning down and the R value going below one and we haven’t yet seen that.

“At the moment, we seem to be still at very high levels of the virus, and we do seem to still have a bit of an upward trajectory, but that very fast increase in the virus seems to have slowed and that’s very encouraging.”

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Prof Elliott urged people to “redouble” their efforts to follow the guidance, adding the country is in “a very critical period right now”.

But Dr David Strain, medical academic staff committee co-chairman at the BMA, said: “These results need to be treated with the utmost caution and should not be used in any way to suggest that the threat from the virus is diminishing.

“While the epidemic may not be expanding as quickly as it was, it is still growing.

“It is far too early to attribute any slowing in growth to the ‘rule of six’ and this assumption is potentially misleading and dangerous. There are likely to have been many other factors at play during this time.

“We should not be fooled into thinking that current Government measures like the ‘rule of six’ – themselves confusing and inconsistent – are the silver bullet to defeating Covid-19.”

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