15 Labour MPs representing constituencies in the North East of England have written to the Health Secretary to seek urgent clarification on new Covid restrictions announced in the region.
In a letter sent to Matt Hancock today, the group of MPs have asked for more information on what government support would be offered to residents affected by the planned local restrictions.
The new measures announced by Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick are expected to include a 10pm curfew for licensed premises such as pubs and restaurants and a ban on meeting anyone from outside your household.
The Labour MPs wrote: “We agree that restrictions must be put in place in order to protect public health, and prevent the further spread of Covid-19, and we support measures taken in order to save lives.
“We do however believe that this must be done in close collaboration with local authorities, who must have access to all appropriate information, data and support in order to make the best decisions for their areas.”
The group has asked the Health Secretary if local authorities will have access to contract-tracing data, what new powers councils will have and whether there is a targeted testing strategy for the region.
They also demanded that the minister explain what the situation will be for businesses who are forced to close or people who are not able to attend work, and suggested the government needs to offer people more financial support.
Labour has consistently called for the government to rethink its planned withdrawal of furlough support by the end of October, citing among other reasons the need to support workers affected by local lockdowns.
The latest intervention comes as the most recent figures from Newcastle recorded a sharp increase in its weekly infection rate, with 194 new cases being discovered in the region in the week leading up to September 13th.
The new measures to reduce the transmission of Covid are expected to affect residents in Newcastle, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Gateshead, County Durham and Sunderland.
A stark rise in Covid-19 infections this week has also led to new local lockdowns in Birmingham and Bolton as research from Imperial College London has suggested that the UK-wide ‘R rate’ could be as high as 1.7.
Below is the full text of the letter sent to Matt Hancock:
We are writing to you in light of the announcement that there are to be further interventions relating to Covid-19 in Sunderland, South Tyneside, Gateshead, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North Tyneside, Northumberland and County Durham local authority areas, and to request urgent clarification on a number of key issues:
What data will or will not be available to the local authorities, at a household level, in relation to those who have tested positive for the virus, and will they have access to contact tracing data?
What strategy is in place to provide additional testing capacity in the region as a result of the increased need; what criteria will be used for targeted testing and prioritisation; and how will the government restore trust in a system that is directing those with symptoms to testing facilities hundreds of miles away?
What consideration has been given to financial support for businesses which are forced to close down or limit the way they operate as a result of the new restrictions?
As the job retention scheme is being pulled away, will you urge the Chancellor to bring forward targeted wage support for hard-hit sectors of the economy to ensure those affected have jobs to return to once restrictions are eased?
What additional resources and powers do you intend to provide to local authorities in order to allow them to target measures to reduce the infection rate?
We agree that restrictions must be put in place in order to protect public health and prevent the further spread of Covid-19, and we support measures taken in order to save lives.
We do however believe that this must be done in close collaboration with local authorities, who must have access to all appropriate information, data and support in order to make the best decisions for their areas.
We look forward to your reply to our urgent questions.