Perspectives on life under Covid from around the Kingdom

SEC Newgate colleagues have given their thoughts on how the latest Government announcements are affecting their region. We have views from Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and North West England.

The view from Belfast
By Austyn Close

Things seem to only get bleaker as we edge closer and closer to Christmas. Reports lay out that over the past seven days, there has been a fivefold increase in Covid-19 patients on ventilators, which is a harrowing read for the start of the new week.

Meanwhile, Michelle O’Neill – the Deputy First Minister – is self-isolating and a further circa 900 new cases are being reported every single day in the province. Plans to combat the virus on a local level are apparently being shelved according to DUP MP, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, while Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Michael McBride, has suggested that a six-week lockdown for the entire statelet would be necessary to curb a rise in infections. This suggestion may well have struck fear into the population of Northern Ireland when it was aired on the well-listened Stephen Nolan radio show yesterday but it may well be necessary.

With Boris’ new tiered structure to tighter restrictions across the country, Northern Ireland (at the time of writing) is unchanged in its current restrictions but Stormont ministers’ inclusion in yesterday’s emergency Cobra meeting has sparked the need to act quickly. It is believed that tighter measures are to come and will likely last longer than four weeks, whatever they may be.

The DUP will be keen to align itself, from a political point of view, with that of the UK’s approach to cracking down but both ruling parties are suffering popularity woes in the latest opinion poll released. The virus is having lingering effects on more than just our health so it’s only a matter of time before things start to heat up again for winter.

Tension prevails in Wales
By Josh Bell

It’s fair to say the Welsh Government is currently at odds with the UK Government, and the tension between the two grows as COVID cases rise either side of the border. Devolution assumes responsibility, and when this is threatened by a conflicting authority, the working relationship inevitably hangs by a thread.

Just this week, the First Minister of Wales has failed to rule out border checks for tourists, stating “It’s not my preferred option” which is far from a rejection of the proposal. Mark Drakeford is also reported to be seriously considering a national circuit-break, which would see Wales enter stricter restrictions over the upcoming half-term holiday. 

Various counties across Wales are in local lockdowns, and leaving these authority areas without a reasonable excuse is prohibited. There is no question that the Welsh Government is treating the virus with the upmost respect, and stricter enforcement is very much on the table for the people of Wales. 

What really matters to politicians here is not whether the First Minister gets along with the Prime Minister, but the public perception of how the virus and its repercussions are being managed (Disclaimer: Welsh Parliament Elections are just 205 days away). The mood in South Wales is largely united, and there is an overwhelming realisation among many that the next six months leading to the spring are going to be extremely tough for all. Whilst frustrated, the majority of people understand where we are. It’s almost winter, many people get sick and we can do our bit now to both protect the NHS and protect the vulnerable.

Others here take the view that it’s time to let the virus run its course, a view evident in anti-lockdown protests in Cardiff Bay over the weekend. However, as hospital admissions and deaths rise, in turn increasing pressure on the Welsh NHS’ vital services, residents are recognising the seriousness of the situation we now find ourselves in. Whilst there is plenty of politics at play here, the support for the Welsh Government is seemingly holding strong, although we are swiftly moving into a critical and potentially painful new phase.

The view from Scotland
By Mark Glover, Newington

Living in the Central Belt in Scotland means that we are under additional measures including being encouraged not to use public transport, restrictions on visiting care homes and some other minor constraints, which means people need to check the Scottish Government website before participating in any type of physical gathering.

Across Scotland licensed premises have been closed on a temporary basis, whilst everyone is encouraged to work from home if possible. The closure of licensed premises is no surprise as on our infrequent trips to Glasgow, our local city, we observed many incidences of where social distancing was not being observed in pubs in particular. The Scottish Government has published a route map to tackling COVID with four potential tiers and whilst it will try to align with the rest of the UK, there are differences between the rules imposed by Westminster and Holyrood, so visitors to Scotland should read the Scottish Government website before doing so.

We also get the daily dose of the First Minister, announcing her updates on COVID from Holyrood. What I find astounding is how little challenge or criticism of the SNP Government there is in the Scottish media. Whereas Boris is under intensive scrutiny in Westminster, Nicola seems to get a free ride from journalists in Scotland. The recent case of the SNP MP, Margaret Ferrier, travelling to London and back with COVID has caused quite a stir and much anger, but as yet she remains an MP although the SNP have withdrawn the whip.

For me, while day to day life involves working from a computer, luckily I have one of the best views I could imagine facing out onto the Firth of Clyde opposite Bute, with an occasional naval presence to spice up the day. The evenings are spent watching TV or out walking or cycling if the weather allows. The week is spiced up by a trip for shopping, always following the rules.

Liverpool locked down, Manchester escapes (for now), and it all ends in tiers
By Chris Midgley

Yesterday Boris Johnson spent more than two hours being grilled by MPs in the Commons, preceded by a statement setting out which areas would be affected by the new system and what it all meant. It was decidedly less awful for Boris than it could have been, as there was broad cross-party support for the measures and plenty of opportunity to bat away criticism with big numbers and favourable comparisons to European neighbours. Once again, much of the opposition came from the Tory backbenches with the libertarian wing making it clear there is only so far they will tolerate freedoms being stripped from constituents.

The last few days has shown that not everyone in Whitehall is a student of regional devolution – Wigan MP Lisa Nandy was missed from the invite list for the Greater Manchester MPs’ briefing call on what the new restrictions would mean for her constituency. As it turns out, it was good news. Wigan and the nine other GM boroughs were placed in the “High Risk” category, one below the Liverpool City Region which now has the tightest controls in the country. GM Mayor Andy Burnham and his night-time economy Czar Sacha Lord (of Parklife and Warehouse Project fame) celebrated their victory. Only for Burnham to admit  he actually had no say in this, evidently in an attempt to deflect blame from Labour leaders in other parts of the North West.

On Wednesday pubs, gyms, casinos and other premises will be closed by law in the Liverpool City Region, which Labour’s Steve Rotheram controls as Metro Mayor. It has been a bruising PR disaster for Rotheram and his Labour colleague Joe Anderson, Liverpool City Mayor (still with me?).

Anderson demanded a full lockdown for Liverpool while Rotheram has resisted all along. But in a turn of events, Anderson changed his mind to fall in line with those resisting the harshest measures. Now they have both ended up looking weak, with the ultimate humiliation for a Labour Liverpool politician coming as Rotheram was repeatedly namechecked and praised by Boris Johnson in the Commons and during the press conference on Monday evening. And of course infamous former deputy-Leader of Liverpool City Council Derek “Degsy” Hatton took the time to have a pop. If you know his history, you almost have to admire how brazen his questioning of anyone’s performance in local government is.

The new rules in Greater Manchester are effectively a very slight loosening of the rules we have been living under for several months, everything remains open but instead of a total ban on mixing with other households people can now meet outdoors. Of course, still only by the rule of six. It has been a worrying time for businesses in Greater Manchester with The Times running the story last week that they would face the same curbs as their colleagues in Liverpool and its surrounds. This alleged leak was lambasted by many northern leaders, MPs and entrepreneurs for not being officially announced first, although that did not stop them doing it themselves ahead of the PM’s statement.

Generally there seems to be a sense of relief, although there is plenty of trepidation about what could happen in the weeks to come if the case numbers do not move in the right direction. The location of the surge in cases in Manchester has almost exactly mapped the areas with high student populations. Fallowfield currently has the highest incidence rate, but there is evidence that these outbreaks are being brought under control. The numbers remain high across all ten boroughs, again there is evidence that these are levelling off. Lord and Burnham have shelved their plans to judicially review the 10pm forced closing time for pubs and restaurants, but have said they remain ready to restart the process if any further restrictions are proposed.

Having just renewed my gym membership for 12 months, and with the weather very decidedly Northern, I live in hope that the trend continues and Greater Manchester can find the right balance to keep most places open and the economy moving.