Opinion: As new restrictions loom, what does it all mean for Cheshire East?

  Posted: 13.10.20 at 15:27 by Cllr James Barber

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On 12 October, the prime minister announced that Cheshire East, among other areas such as Cheshire West & Chester, Warrington and Greater Manchester, were to be placed under ‘Tier 2’ restrictions. The full extent of what these new measures mean is, as of yet, relatively unclear.

Cheshire East Council effectively know exactly the same as everyone else. All we know at this stage is what the PM has publicly announced.

Household mixing in indoor settings is to be banned, leaving businesses in the hospitality industry fearing for their futures. We don’t as of yet know exactly who will be enforcing the restrictions; which could lead to the flouting of the rules (knowingly or unknowingly). We also face potential cross-border issues.

Cheshire East currently has an infection rate of around 144.2 per 100,000, with 542 new confirmed cases in the week leading up to 4 October, an increase from 235 the week before and a record high for the borough (with the peak during the first wave being 269 new weekly cases). It is clear that measures are now necessary, but just how successful these new Tier 2 restrictions will be is yet to be seen.

Hospitality businesses, especially pubs and bars, now find themselves with uncertain futures. In Tier 2, they will lose the majority of their customers due to the fact you can no longer go for a drink with members of other households, but they won’t be forced to close down.

This means that there will be no further financial support for affected businesses and inevitably will lead to many businesses having to close voluntarily due to a lack of custom, leaving staff in vulnerable positions and potentially facing unemployment.

Councillor James Barber, Broken Cross and Upton ward

The complete lack of engagement and consultation with councils and local leaders across the country has created a number of issues.

The leader of Cheshire East Council, Cllr Sam Corcoran, was given 20 minutes notice that we were to be in Tier 2, with the majority of us actually finding out about the impending placement in that tier the night before from the media, who knew before anyone outside the government.

Councils need to understand how the restrictions are working, as, presumably, it will be our responsibility to implement the policies. However, we know nothing outside of what the PM has said publicly.

Recently, Cllr Corcoran, along with the leaders of Cheshire West & Chester and the Leader of Warrington councils, together with the Local Enterprise Partnership, wrote to the secretary of state for health and social care, outlining requests for further enforcement powers to ensure businesses comply with the regulations as well as requesting further resources for localised contact tracing.

This request was left unanswered and unacknowledged. The requests, as part of a detailed nine-page plan, were being made so as to prevent a potential full lockdown locally, but the government ignored them.

The national failure that is the Test and Trace system, that has been outsourced to the private company SERCO, has only worsened the situation.

The PM promised us a ‘world-beating’ track and trace system. But we aren’t asking for a ‘world-beating’ system, merely a functioning one at the bare minimum.

This is why, personally, I think that the unaccountable and unsuccessful national system, which is the subject of complaints from MPs, local leaders, councils and residents (of all different political persuasions), needs to now be much more devolved and localised, ensuring more accountability and above all, effectiveness.

This virus is simply not going away any time soon, and the best way to ensure we keep a handle over the spread is via a functioning and comprehensive contact tracing system. Quite how effective this will be now, given how far into the second wave we are currently, is questionable. It may well be too late now, but it is vital that it is sorted out.

I know just how devastating it is to local residents to see more restrictions placed upon their lives. I know I’d love to be able to go to the pub with my mates, and I am fully aware that millions across the country want to be able to see their mates. But now we are at a critical point in the pandemic’s second wave, and unfortunately, with such a sharp rise in cases locally and nationally, measures need to be taken to prevent the huge spread of the virus which threatens to end the lives of tens of thousands more people.

I don’t want us to go into another full lockdown, because the effects that would have on people's mental and physical wellbeing will be unimaginable.

So we all need to do our bit to firstly contain the spread of the virus in order to stop Cheshire East moving into Tier 3, and also to reduce the spread in order to ensure we can gradually start lifting restrictions over the next few months.

Be in no doubt, this will be a very difficult winter, and Christmas this year will inevitably be very unusual. But while the number of cases continues to rise sharply, we cannot start taking this virus for granted. Therefore, where possible, please wear a mask and social distance.

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