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Fri, 4 December 2020

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By Kieran Lyons
Coronavirus
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Robert Jenrick Has Admitted Local Covid Lockdowns Haven't Had Their Desired Impact, But The North Still Faces Restrictions

Robert Jenrick Has Admitted Local Covid Lockdowns Haven't Had Their Desired Impact, But The North Still Faces Restrictions

The cabinet minister has admitted some communities were "extremely frustrated" at the impact of local lockdowns.

4 min read

Robert Jenrick has admitted local coronavirus lockdown restrictions haven't had the impact they had hoped for despite reports that pubs and restaurants in northern England could be forced to close again.

The Communities Secretary has defended the government's local lockdown strategy despite admitting that some communities had been left "extremely frustrated" by the lack of progress in cutting infection rates.

It comes amid reports that Boris Johnson is set to close pubs and restaurants in the north of England from Monday following a surge in infections, with a further 14,162 people testing positive for the virus on Wednesday.

According to The Times, the Prime Minister signed off on the draft proposals on Wednesday evening, paving the way for a simplified "traffic light" system of escalating lockdowns across England.

The paper said those in the highest tier could see hospitality firms forced to shut, with other businesses such as leisure venues and hairdressers also likely asked to close.

It follows an earlier announcement from Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who introduced pub closures and limits on opening hours on hospitality businesses north of the border.

Asked whether England was considering the same approach, Mr Jenrick said ministers had yet to come to a final conclusion on what the new measures could look like, but insisted the government would take a "regional and proportionate" approach to tackling outbreaks.

"It is true that the virus is rising, in terms of the number of cases, quite significantly in the north west, in the north east and in a number of other cities, like Nottingham, for example.

"And we are currently considering what the right action would be to take in those place. And we will make a conclusion on that as soon as we can," he said.

"We are considering a range of different options. You can see that the choices we have had in the past. We would like, I think, a more consistent approach.

"So we are considering how is the best way to do that so it is easier for people to understand what different approaches are being applied in different parts of the country."

Reports of the plans came after Labour published new figures showing that 19 out of 20 areas in England which have faced local lockdown restrictions in the last two months had continued to report rising infection rates.

But Mr Jenrick said the measures imposed by the government "objectively work", adding that if they had not been implemented the government would have been forced to introduce even tougher restrictions as infections rose.

"The measures objectively work we know that if you limit contact between individuals that that helps to reduce the rate of transmission, so the measures that we've taken in those local lockdowns will have helped to flatten the curve," he said.

"We know that and we understand that in some of the places where we've imposed local restrictions we haven't yet seen the impact that we would like to see, and we understand that it's extremely frustrating to local people in those areas.

"However, it's not correct to say that that strategy isn't working, because if we hadn't chosen to put in place those measures, then the rate of infection would almost certainly be even higher than it is today, even tighter restrictions might now be being considered.

"We're trying to take a proportionate response here. We're trying to design that for particular places, taking into account their local circumstances, and that is the most sensible way to proceed."

And he hit out at Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer for branding the approach to local lockdowns as "ridiculous", saying critics had failed to offer any alternative.

"I haven't heard them put forward a different strategy to taking that local and proportionate response," he added.

"Of course, we could go further and we're listening to local leaders, and we're taking advice from our scientific advisors, as we always do, keeping the measures under review."

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