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Liverpool Covid restrictions: Mental health 'taken for granted'

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"The message to the people of my amazing city is stick together."

Former world cruiserweight champion Tony Bellew is worried Liverpool's new coronavirus restrictions will affect people's mental wellbeing.

"I just think people's mental health has actually been taken for granted in this situation," he tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

The government says it's increased funding for mental health charities during the pandemic.

Tony Bellew's home city and areas nearby are the first place to be put on the highest of England's new Covid alert levels.

It means households won't be able to mix inside or outside. Gyms, leisure centres, betting shops and casinos will shut until at least some time in November.

Pubs and bars not serving meals also have to close.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionBellew retired in 2018

The government's always said restrictions are needed to save thousands of lives. But 37-year-old Bellew thinks the only other things being considered are "money and the economy".

"I understand that everybody has to earn money, and businesses still have to exist," he says.

"I just think, 'What help is there going to be for people who are completely fed up, and just sitting in a flat on their own?'"

"My grandmother hasn't had a visitor for over six months. She's 94. My father lives alone and he's been on his own, basically, for month after month after month."

A spokeswoman from the Department of Health and Social Care says anyone having mental health difficulties should "make contact with a health professional as soon as possible".

The spokeswoman says: "We are absolutely committed to supporting everyone's mental wellbeing and NHS mental health services have been adapted, including by using digital appointments," and adds they've provided an extra £10.2m in funding to national and local mental health charities to help people affected by the pandemic.

image copyrightReuters

Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the strictest rules are for areas where infection rates are rising the most and where "the NHS will soon be under unbearable pressure".

Figures suggest Liverpool has 600 confirmed cases of the virus for every 100,000 people living there. The average for England is 74.

Scientists who advise the government say that without tougher restrictions, those numbers could quickly grow.

"It's just very, very sad. People don't see light at the end of the tunnel," Tony Bellew says.

"I'm someone who's very mentally strong. I've been fighting all my life, so I'll find a way to get through it.

"And I've got even more stuff to fight for when I've got four beautiful kids and a wife. What is there going to be for people who are on their own?"

image copyrightReuters
image captionTony Bellew beat David Haye in 2017

In August, NHS bosses said they'd seen a rise in people reporting severe mental health problems.

And figures obtained by Newsbeat suggest the number of young people being referred to mental health services in April and May fell by nearly half.

A poll of nearly 3,000 people suggests only 15% of people agree that the latest rules go too far.

The research group YouGov says 40% of those questioned actually thought restrictions didn't go far enough. The government's scientific advisers also want even stricter rules across England.

Instead of widespread restrictions, Tony Bellew would prefer vulnerable people most at risk from the virus were told to shield.

But as things stand, he's got a message for people in his home city.

"Stay in contact with your loved ones. Stay in contact with people you care about - and even people you don't care about."

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