Covid: Warrington to move to tier 3 restrictions

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Household mixing is banned indoors and most places outdoors under tier three restrictions

Warrington will move to England's highest tier of coronavirus restrictions from next week, its council has confirmed.

The Labour-run council said it had reached agreement with the government and would be moving into tier three.

Local leaders agreed a financial settlement worth £5.9m.

Conservative MP for Warrington South, Andy Carter, said this was proportionate with the financial settlements for other tier three areas.

The Cheshire town, home to about 210,000 people, is the 35th-worst hit place in England according to government figures.

As of Monday, the government reported 733 coronavirus cases in Warrington, with a rate of 349 per 100,000 people in the previous seven days.

'Grim inevitability'

Council leader Russ Bowden said case numbers remained "stubbornly high" and "urgent action" was needed.

Restrictions are expected to come into force at 00:01 GMT on Thursday.

The council has said people must not:

  • Socialise with anybody you don't live with in any indoor setting, private garden or most outdoor hospitality venues and ticketed events
  • Socialise in a group of more than six in outdoor public spaces such as parks

The council said people should:

  • Avoid travelling outside Warrington wherever possible - only essential journeys, such as for work or caring responsibilities, should be made
  • Avoid staying overnight in another part of the UK

Under the rules pubs and bars which don't serve substantial meals will close, along with soft play centres, betting offices and casinos.

Gyms, leisure centres, hairdressers, beauticians and trampoline parks will stay open.

Support bubbles and childcare bubbles are not affected.

Image source, The Jungle
Image caption,
Sarah Lott and her husband Paul run family business The Jungle Play Centre in Warrington

Sarah Lott, who runs The Jungle soft play centre in Warrington, said she was "devastated" and has already had a staff member in tears since the announcement.

She said she did not understand why trampoline parks could stay open but soft play could not.

"You can't pinpoint the reason. If the government had scientific advice or told us why. What is the evidence that soft play centres are a pit of germs?" Ms Lott said.

"We are working at 40% capacity, there is loads of room, adults wear masks and we clean between sessions. There is no issue at all."

She said she has already let two thirds of her staff go and is "down to the bare minimum".

"I don't know how we are going to survive. Our rent is over £10,000. It is a blow. It is just horrific. Here we go again," she added.


Rob England, BBC England Data Unit

Warrington, like many parts of England, has seen a surge in cases over the last eight weeks, according to government figures.

The area recorded 349 cases per 100,000 people in the week to 19 October, well above England's overall rate of 187.4 per 100,000 over the same period, but a slight drop on the previous week so far.

It also saw 10 further deaths from coronavirus in the last week and hospital admissions to Warrington and Halton Teaching Hospitals rose by 10 in the seven days to 18 October on the previous week.

It's a mixed picture in neighbouring areas.

Authorities such as Salford, Wigan and St Helens have seen higher rates, while Halton - already in tier 3 as part of the Liverpool City Region - Cheshire East and Cheshire West all recorded lower rates.

Gareth Hammond who runs the Chapel House Inn in Burtonwood said it was a "blessed relief" to shut after some "stressful days" since being placed in tier two.

He had been forced to "separate friends who had been drinking together for years", he said, and there had been "difficult conversations" with customers who felt there was "no logic" behind the rules.

Image source, Chapel House Inn
Image caption,
Gareth Hammond who runs the Chapel House Inn said it would be a "relief" to close after stressful days trying to police tier two rules

"You would have a couple of people who had been working in a van together all day but I had to tell them they could not sit together and have a drink afterwards," he said.

He also said it had been "uncomfortable" as people from other tier three regions had "flooded" the Warrington pubs.

However, Mr Hammond said, the business could only survive short term by "scrimping and saving".

If the current restrictions went on for as long as the initial lockdown, he said, it could be "a different kettle of fish".

He said having to close would be "difficult to manage" , but he didn't know how long he could carry on operating under tier two conditions.

"We're making very little money and it is not enjoyable," he said.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Households will no longer be able to mix outside hospitality venues as they can in tier two

Bookmaker Harold Smith, who runs a betting shop, said the move was "completely misinformed".

"More people stand outside at the bus stop than come into the shop," he said.

"Since they introduced no smoking people don't stay in the shop any more. Any that do are wearing masks."

Punters "didn't come back" after the initial lockdown in March, he said, adding: "we are doing our business on the telephone now".

The council said £1.68 m of the funding package would be allocated to supporting its public health response, including testing and enforcement.

It said £4.2m would be used for business and employment support.

Tier three financial settlements

  • Warrington: £5.9m, population 210,000
  • Liverpool City Region: £44m, population 1.5 million
  • Lancashire: £42m, population 1.5 million
  • Greater Manchester: £60m, population 2.8 million

Labour MP for Warrington North, Charlotte Nichols, said it was a "grim inevitability" that Warrington would be put in tier three.

She said the town had "double the average rate of infection" among over-60s and its main hospital was "nearing its ICU capacity".

Ms Nichols said only about 60% of close contacts were being traced due to the "failing" system.

She also criticised Warrington's financial settlement as being "not remotely enough" and said the government's formula for working it out was "far too rigid".

Warrington will follow Greater Manchester, which joined Liverpool City Region and Lancashire in tier three at midnight.

South Yorkshire will move into tier three restrictions from 00:01 on Saturday.

Nottingham and parts of Nottinghamshire are also expected to be moved into tier three next week, with the finer details such as whether or not gyms can stay open still to be decided as talks continue.