Lockdown concern as coronavirus rate rises across Shropshire

Inviting friends into your home and meeting people down the pub are set to be banned under tough new measures set to be introduced in Shropshire next week.

Shrewsbury's Pride Hill was like a ghost town during the first lockdown
Shrewsbury's Pride Hill was like a ghost town during the first lockdown

The measures would see the whole of the West Midlands, including all of Shropshire, being classified as a 'tier two' zone, and subject to stricter regulations.

This would mean people would not be able to visit other people in their homes, unless they were part of the same 'support bubble', and would not be able to meet with people from other households at indoor hospitality or retail sites.

The proposals have been dismissed as 'counter-productive' by one landlord, who said they would just lead to more people meeting in unregulated groups in their own homes.

John Ellis, who keeps the Crown Inn at Oakengates and the Elephant & Castle in Dawley, said statistics showed that fewer than five per cent of coronavirus cases emanated from the hospitality industry.

He said the existing 10pm closure orders had also made the situation worse, resulting in groups of people queuing for taxis all at the same time.

"The Government doesn't understand how hospitality works," said Mr Ellis.

"If they spoke to a few of the pubs, I'm sure they would come up with lots of ideas that would help, but they haven't."

Mr Ellis said the rules about people meeting in their own homes would be near-impossible to enforce properly.

Shaun Davies, Telford & Wrekin Council leader

"It's driving people to go to each other's houses, drinking subsidised beer from the supermarkets," he said.

Councillor Shaun Davies, leader of Telford & Wrekin Council, said he was disappointed that the Government had not consulted local authority leaders before coming up with the rules.

He said it was wrong to lump areas such as Telford & Wrekin and Shropshire together with areas such as Sandwell, Birmingham and Wolverhampton which had much higher infection rates.

"It's a lazy way of working which is going to have a major impact on our economy," he said.

He echoed Mr Ellis's claim that it would drive people into meeting up in their homes, adding that many pubs and restaurants now had stringent social-distancing measures in place.

Councillor Davies added that while the infection rate had risen in Telford & Wrekin, many of these cases were among university students who were not living in the borough at the moment.

Councillor Peter Nutting, leader of Shropshire Council, said the rules would be tough on people in the county, but he expected they would comply with them.

"I think it's quite tough on the people of Shropshire, but if it's what we've got to do to control the virus, I'm sure everybody will comply," he said.

Pockets

Councillor Nutting said most of the spread of the virus was confined to small pockets, mainly around nursing homes and also in an area of Whitchurch.

"I would prefer, if we could, to confine the measures to just those areas where the virus is spreading rapidly," he said.

"It would have been nice if the Government had talked to the councils, but it's got a lot on its plate.

"It's got an impossible job to do, and I'm not going to criticise the Government."

The move came as the number of cases in both Telford & Wrekin and the rest of Shropshire saw a sharp rise, although for both areas the infection rate remains below the national average.

In Telford & Wrekin, the infection rate is 53 cases per 100,000 of the population, compared to the English average of 62, while in the rest of Shropshire the figure was also below the national average at 58.

A total of 186 new cases were recorded in the Shropshire Council area during the week up until Sunday, an increase of 77 on the previous week.

Councillor Peter Nutting

Telford & Wrekin saw 96 new cases during the same period, an increase of 30.

Ludlow MP Philip Dunne said it was disappointing that such measures were necessary, but added that the number of cases in the county had been rising significantly and that the Government could not allow the NHS to be overwhelmed.

"We are a bit behind the rest of the Midlands, but we are beginning to reach those levels now," he said.

He said the Government had to protect hospitals so they were able to treat patients with other conditions, as well as coronavirus.

The Government in Westminster is under increasing pressure to act after Scotland announced fresh restrictions on the hospitality sector.

Dr Adam Kucharski, a scientist advising the Government, warned that there were "pretty serious" outbreaks in parts of England and medics warned of increasing hospital admissions.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick was pressed on whether new restrictions on the hospitality industry could come as early as Monday as rates soar in cities such as Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle.

"It is correct to say the number of cases in the North West and the North East and a number of cities, particularly in the Midlands like Nottingham, are rising fast and that is a serious situation," he said.

The three stages

"We are currently considering what steps we should take, obviously taking the advice of our scientific and medical advisers, and a decision will be made shortly."

But he said that a "localised but proportionate response has to be the way forwards" amid calls from experts to impose new national measures.

Mr Jenrick said it was "commonsensical" that the longer individuals spend in pubs the more likely they are to transmit the virus and stressed the need to "take action decisively".

But he said he was working with Chancellor Rishi Sunak to consider fresh support for the hospitality sector because businesses could be put in a "really difficult, intolerable position".

Health Minister Nadine Dorries said further measures were needed because hospital admissions could be at a "critical stage" in around 10 days' time.

Dr Kucharski, a member of the Government's scientific pandemic influenza group on modelling, warned of worsening infection rates in parts of England.

"So, I think we are in a situation where cases are rising and they are going to continue to rise unless something changes," the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine scientist told the Today programme.

"We have got now good evidence that a lot of transmission particularly happens at prolonged indoor interactions, particularly among close-knit gatherings, so, obviously pubs and restaurants are one potential setting for that to happen."

‘Worrying rise’ in those seriously ill

Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard

The number of people with coronavirus receiving intensive care in hospital is “really worrying”, the Midlands-based chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges has said.

Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard, of the University of Birmigham, said the number of people in hospital with Covid-19 over the past month has increased from a “few hundred people per day” to “thousands”.

She said: “So right now, we have got more than 3,100 people in hospital with coronavirus around the UK. Actually 500 of those are in Intensive Therapy Unit beds, that’s really worrying.

“A month ago we only had 60 people in the whole of the UK in ITU beds. So we are seeing a very worrying trend at the moment. As the cases go up, a few weeks later hospital admissions go up, a few weeks after that, unfortunately, intensive care goes up and then deaths go up.

She added that a lot of cities, including Birmingham and its surrounding areas, are “now seeing serious problems” around the spread of coronavirus. She said: “I’m based in the Midlands and we are seeing problems in Birmingham, but we are also seeing issues in Coventry, Nottingham, and it’s working further south. We are also seeing some interesting patterns starting to happen in London again. So yes this is a problem actually affecting all four nations of the UK.”

Dr Stokes-Lampard added that the variation in local lockdown rules are “difficult” and “confusing”.

Wearing face masks has become the norm while shopping

She said the UK was at a “tipping point” in regard to the spread of coronavirus, and stressed that she was not “scaremongering”.

Dr Stokes-Lampard said: “I don’t come from an organisation that does scaremongering, we care about people, we care about our patients and want to do the best for them and to keep doing the best for them through what was always going to be a difficult winter.

“Let’s not make it a spectacularly difficult winter.”

Asked about local lockdowns, she added: “I think the variation in rules, what lockdown means in one place to another, I think is really difficult, it is confusing, and I am a great fan of clarity and consistency and messaging.”

However, Dr Stokes-Lampard pleaded with people to follow the rules in areas where local lockdowns have been imposed.

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