Local leaders in Barrow have asked Government to impose new COVID-19 restrictions and bring the area in line with measures taken in the North East and Merseyside.
The request, which covers the Barrow Borough Council area, comes as the COVID-19 infection rate continues to accelerate and hospitalisations mount. The latest data shows the infection rate increasing to 200 per 100,000 and 54 COVID-19 patients in Furness General Hospital, putting it in the top 15 in England.
Leaders hope that by acting now the spread of the virus can be slowed, even stricter local lockdown laws avoided, and lives saved. 82 people in Barrow have died as a result of COVID-19 this year.
Among a range of measures, the new restrictions would make it illegal to mix with people you do not live with in your home, garden or other indoor setting and recommend limitations on non-essential travel. Fines could be imposed for those who fail to comply. Exceptions would apply.
Cllr Peter Thornton, acting Chair of the Area Outbreak Board and Deputy Leader of Cumbria County Council, said:
“It was the unanimous view of the Board and local political leaders that we need to act now and make this request to Government. The infection rate is rising at an alarming speed and we are now in equivalent position to where we were in March. This is not scaremongering. It’s putting Barrow, its people and its economy, first and we need the whole community come together to make the difference. If we all pull together now we may be able to avoid a full lockdown in the future”
Councillor Ann Thomson, leader of Barrow Borough Council, said:
"All of us across Barrow now face the most serious situation possible.
"More than 80 residents across Barrow have already lost their lives to this vicious virus since March. Coronavirus cases are soaring through our communities, putting more lives at stake.
"We absolutely must take decisive action to keep everyone safe and break the rise in infections so that we can prevent a full lockdown. Your efforts will protect not just yourselves but your loved ones and others around you.
"This is difficult and not at all what any of us wanted. But taking precautions now will pay off in the long run so life can return to normal as quickly as possible."
Simon Fell, Member of Parliament for Barrow and Furness, said:
“The number of coronavirus cases in our community continues to rise at an alarming rate. With that comes the steady drumbeat of more hospitalisations and the real and present danger of more deaths.
“As a community we have a simple choice: act now to save lives and turn this around, or face a stricter lockdown that could harm our local economy. We have days to do this, not weeks. For the good of the whole community, please stick to new guidance that comes into force.”
The decision to ask for new legal restrictions follows additional public health advice issued for Barrow on 17 September asking people to limit groups of six to people from no more than two households. Despite the strengthened advice new infections have continued to increase.
Colin Cox, Cumbria’s Director of Public Health, said:
“What’s happening in Barrow isn’t just a few outbreaks, or the result of increased testing, indeed over the last three weeks the number of people getting tested has dropped, but the percentage who test positive has tripled from less than 4% to more than 12% now. What we’re seeing is the virus circulating generally in the community and increasing spread from younger to older and more vulnerable people. That’s why we must do something different. New restrictions on household mixing would make it more difficult for infection to spread, while allowing much of normal life to continue. If things continue as they are, far more severe measures are likely to be inevitable.”
Andrew Slattery, Assistant Chief Constable at Cumbria Police, said:
“New legal restrictions for the Barrow area would mean that some of the public health advice given to date would become law and anybody found in breach could expect to be issued with a fixed penalty fine. Our officers will work closely with all public authorities in Barrow to ensure that individuals and businesses adhere to any new and existing regulations. We are extremely grateful to the majority of local residents who have done the right thing and complied with all previous regulations and advice, but now is the time for everybody to do their bit to get this virus under control.”
A major public communications campaign is planned to ensure awareness of any new rules.