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So much for summer being the easy part

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New restrictions across swathes of the North to prevent a resurgence in coronavirus

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The Telegraph

Friday July 31 2020

Front Bench


Good morning. Millions of people across the North of England are waking up to new restrictions after the Government moved to halt rising infections.

Restrictions return for millions in the North of England

Daniel Capurro

By Daniel Capurro,
Front Bench Editor

Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, caused a shock last night when he announced a sudden increase in restrictions on swathes of the North of England. In Greater Manchester, Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Hyndburn, Pendleton, Rossendale, Bradford, Kirklees and Calderdale different households will be banned from meeting indoors or in private gardens.

Residents will still be able to visit pubs and restaurants, but not mix with other households when doing so. The new restrictions will also apply in Leicester, where the local lockdown is being eased and businesses allowed to reopen.

– Household transmission –

The slightly chaotic manner in which the new measures were announced has led to some criticism, but the real question is where it leaves Britain in relation to the coronavirus.

The move came as infections continued to creep up in the affected areas and, in announcing the measures, Hancock laid the blame squarely on the public for meeting with other households while failing to follow social distancing rules.

That may have something to do with how convoluted and unclear they have become, with a new survey showing that half the UK public doesn’t understand the latest social distancing rules. Earlier in the day, Boris Johnson had urged the public not to delude themselves that the danger had passed.

The changes may cause Johnson yet more political pain. Already a number of backbench Tory MPs from Greater Manchester are grumbling that their constituency isn’t as bad as everyone else’s. Coming on top of backbench revolts over quarantine and China, it’s increasingly clear that the Prime Minister has a party management problem.

– Not as bad as March, but still not good –

As for the UK’s outbreak, it’s a moment of uncertainty. As our data team analyse in detail here, before the changes Britain was a little over a fortnight behind Spain in the way that infections were bouncing back.

At the same time, Sarah Knapton points out that hospital admissions have not yet gone up and that the situation is very different to March and April. Rather than reaching lockdown levels, the high number of infections reflect a much-improved testing system.

Still, a disease widespread among the young and asymptomatic is no reason to relax. Once it spreads from those asymptomatic carriers into older and more vulnerable sections of society, the problems of earlier in the year return. For that reason, the Government has moved quickly to try and stamp out these outbreaks.

This is, however, a significant setback when looked at in the context of the Government’s drive to reopen the economy and get people back into work. That the UK has failed to make it past the summer without a significant reversal in lockdown easing is not a great sign for the autumn when the furlough scheme is to be wound up.

– Bracing for winter –

Yesterday, Dido Harding, the head of NHS Test and Trace, announced plans for a massive expansion of testing by September, including 150,000 tests a day for people who are not showing symptoms. The aim is to get test and trace working as originally intended, that is, targeting small outbreaks to prevent the need for sweeping measures.

If it can’t be made to work and the Government refuses to extend its vast spending beyond October, then the UK could be in for a miserable winter.

P.S. From next week, Front Bench will taking a summer break and switching to weekly editions on a Thursday. It will be back to daily editions from September 1st.


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Westminster Round Up

Scottish Tory woes | Jackson Carlaw resigned unexpectedly as leader of the Scottish Conservatives yesterday after less than a year in the job. The move comes just nine months ahead of crucial Scottish elections in which the SNP will attempt to win a majority for a second independence referendum. The latest polls show tumbling support for the Scottish Conservatives and a substantial majority for independence.

As Alan Cochrane explains, while a decent man, Carlaw was simply not up to the job and knew as much. While Ruth Davidson had done a remarkable job of reviving the Scottish Tories in 2017, the deep unpopularity of Brexit and Boris Johnson north of the border had already placed Carlaw in a difficult position. That Nicola Sturgeon has delivered a masterclass in political communication during the pandemic made that position impossible. Douglas Ross, a Westminster MP, is expected to take over the leadership role, but the Scottish Tories are painfully short of big names at such a crucial moment.


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