Matt Hancock. Photo: Pippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, licence linked at bottom of article Matt Hancock. Photo: Pippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, licence linked at bottom of article

Still no signs of the government having a coherent strategy, writes Matthew Giles

Following on from similar measures in parts of the North West, West Midlands, Scotland and Wales in recent weeks, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has now announced that the majority of the North East of England are to be latest area to re-enter lockdown from just after midnight on Friday.

Around two million people will be affected by new regulations coming into force, including different households not being able to socialise (apart from existing bubbles) in homes, indoor and outdoor public spaces and pubs closing between 10pm and 5am. This is on top of the recently introduced ‘rule of six’ which is in force across the UK; restricting gatherings of over six individuals not in the same household.

These measures will be in place in the North and Central parts of the region, including South Tyneside and Sunderland where infection rates reached over one hundred people per hundred thousand yesterday. Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Gateshead and North Tyneside are also included in the catchment area, along with the more rural areas of Northumberland and County Durham; residents of which may feel aggrieved as these two local authorities have much lower infection rates in comparison to their neighbours. Darlington and Teesside to the south are not yet to be included. 

This is the next chapter of the government’s attempts to counter a long awaited second wave of Covid-19, with local lockdowns persisting into the beginning of autumn and taking up more and more of the country with no end in sight. Many of us on the radical left warned of doing away with many of the restrictions put in place from March till June earlier this year and questioned why, with the virus still prevalent in society and no vaccine or effective anti-viral developed; were those in power so eager to get everything back to normal. 

These new restrictions in the most poverty-ridden region of England come in as the government continues to face pressure over its test, track and trace plans; with contrasting pictures in different areas of the country over availability and efficiency of tests and results.

In the North East, testing centres are frequently backed up with appointments; forcing potential virus sufferers to travel upwards of two hundred miles to get a test while waiting longer to receive results. Recent reports describe two thirds of those who have managed to be tested not receiving their results within twenty-four hours.

This second wave has mainly been blamed on younger people mixing in pubs, clubs and restaurants since August, when these establishments began to reopen, and transmitting the virus onto older family members. The government’s ‘eat out to help out’ scheme has been widely criticised for increasing crowds at eateries nationwide.

As we saw early in the pandemic, it’s easy to pinpoint when outbreaks occur and the timeframe of around a month until you see infection rates starting to rise, followed by an increase in hospital admissions and sadly, deaths. The recent measures taken by those in charge to roll back reopening the country seem to be closing the gate after the horse has bolted.

There are several questions to answered here; namely the recent start to the school year, with hundreds of schools and colleges now considering closing again. This also casts doubt on the current drive to get workers back into offices while infection rates continue to rise nationwide.

What of Rishi Sunak’s furlough scheme, which is set to end of many in October? Are the general public more prepared the second time around? Or are they now ambivalent to the constant changes and vagueness to the rules? Will some restrictions being now enshrined in law encourage more responsibility, and will they even make a significant difference given people are still having to go to work, schools and universities?

Only time will tell, because now with the night’s drawing in as we head towards winter, there are currently no signs of this getting any better nor of the government having a coherent strategy, here in the North East and beyond.  

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