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MPs And Northern Leaders Still Don’t Think There’s Enough Scientific Evidence To Justify Shutting Down Pubs

MPs And Northern Leaders Still Don’t Think There’s Enough Scientific Evidence To Justify Shutting Down Pubs
4 min read

MPs and local leaders are continuing to express frustration at the lack of evidence being provided amid plans to shut down pubs in Liverpool and surrounding areas.

Under the government’s new tiered local lockdown system – set out by Boris Johnson in the Commons today— pubs, bars, gyms, casinos and bookmakers in tier three areas will be required to close. 

Merseyside is to be the first area to be put into that tier after it reported the second-highest infection rate in the country in the two weeks to 4 October, with 4,593 confirmed cases, equating to 928.2 cases per 100,000 people.

Meanwhile, Manchester is in the second tier, meaning that its businesses can stay open, but there are fears the city could also face the strictest measures if its infection rates do not improve.

On Monday morning, deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam and other leading health officials set out the data underpinning the decision to impose strict measures in Liverpool.

But no specific evidence was supplied outlining why bars, gyms and similar settings were singled out, to which Manchester MP Lucy Powell responded: “That’s because there isn’t any.”

“I think we all agree action is needed, but what action is the question. The proposed measures still don’t match the problem yet would cause real hardship and poverty,” she told PoliticsHome. 

“People are angry, they are worried and they are confused.” added Labour MP Mike Kane, whose constituency is within the city of Manchester.

“For every email I get asking me why sanctions have been imposed on them or their business I have another one from people concerned and genuinely fearful for their own health that people in their community in shops or on public transport are not following the guidelines.”

Speaking to PoliticsHome, he added: “The situation is divisive and does not seem to make sense and while I support any measures we need to take to stop the spread of this terrible virus, the guidance must make sense to my constituents, must be evidence-based and must support our community in these times of need."

But according to Dr Lance Turtle, a senior clinical lecturer in infectious diseases at the University of Liverpool, any reduction of human contact will reduce transmission, regardless of where it takes place.

“I think the simple fact is that this virus spreads when people come into contact. And exactly where that happens, the virus is not going to differentiate between that,” he told the Today programme.

Jim McMahon, Labour MP for Oldham West and a shadow minister, didn’t think that argument was enough to justify shutting whole sectors, claiming the evidence was “very weak”.

“We've been asking the government for that data. We actually had a call with ministers last week with northern MPs where we were asking for the data, and frankly I don't think many people were convinced at all that the government had a data-led approach on this,” he said, also speaking on the Today programme.

Liverpool councillor Paul Brant also felt the government had failed to provide backing for its decision following Professor Van-Tam’s briefing.

“I think the government should have the evidence base to justify the cost/benefit of closing down various sectors of business, he said. 

“Otherwise it’s like flying blind in a storm. We run the risk of selecting a high-cost low-benefit suite of closures purely because the Government is ignorant of the real effect.”

However, the severity of the situation still shouldn’t be underestimated, argues Dr Shaun Fitzgerald of the University of Cambridge.

“‘We now have more patients in hospital with COVID-19 than we did when the government announced restrictions on March 23’.  These words from Prof Powis are extremely concerning,” he said.  

“A scenario of the NHS being completely overwhelmed is something we can’t allow, and unfortunately it seems inevitable that more stringent restrictions on our movements will be needed.

“Fundamentally, this horrible disease only spreads as a result of interactions between people.  

“Clearly there are big questions regarding which settings are the ones where transmission happens most, but we know limiting our interactions with others will help curb the spread.”

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