A Tory minister has warned that northern lockdowns could be set to get even stricter as officials debate tougher measures to deal with the rising number of coronavirus cases.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said that while decisions have not yet been made, ‘talks are ongoing’ across Merseyside and Liverpool.
It could include pubs being forced to shut completely, and moving to make the mixing of households illegal under the new Covid-19 law.
He told BBC Breakfast: “I know that there are some discussions, I understand, that are going on about the situation in Liverpool, but no decisions have been taken yet.
“It’s not really possible for me to say what they may or may not do since I think there’s currently dialogue between health officials and the local council there.’
When pressed, he added: “My understanding is a decision hasn’t been made, but I am aware that discussions have been taking place about what further restrictions might be needed, I think particularly around Merseyside and Liverpool.”
It comes as people flooded to the pubs and bars in Newcastle on Friday night, which is already operating under tough Covid-19 restrictions.
In the north east, mixing between households in any indoor setting, such as pubs and restaurants, is now illegal.
But it didn’t stop hundreds of students and other revellers flouting social distancing guidelines as they spilled out of bars at the 10pm curfew.
Police officers wearing masks and gloves tried to separate the groups and were seen talking to a McDonald’s manager as a crowd of around 20 stood outside.
Newcastle-upon-Tyne currently has 0.93% of its population displaying coronavirus symptoms, according to government funded COVID Symptom Study app.
That means just shy of one out of every 100 Geordies were actively displaying symptoms over the past week.
There’s been an outbreak of coronavirus at Northumbria University, which now has 770 students self-isolating.
Staff at the uni have threatened to strike due to Covid-19 fears and feel they are ‘having to choose between their health and their work’.
A spokesperson for the university said: “As of Friday October 2, we can confirm that we are aware of 770 Northumbria University students who have tested positive for Covid-19, of whom 78 are symptomatic.
“These students are all now self-isolating. Their flatmates and any close contacts are also self-isolating for 14 days in line with government guidance and have been advised to contact NHS119 to book a test as soon as possible should symptoms appear.
“We are supporting all students who are self-isolating, providing them with food and other essential items, as well as welfare support including 24/7 online mental health support and one-to-one support from our wellbeing teams where required which is accessible through multiple channels. We are supporting students with food, laundry, cleaning materials and other welfare support, working together with our Students’ Union, the City Council and other partners.
“Northumbria University students are able to continue their learning remotely with additional academic support in place to make sure they are not being disadvantaged if they miss any face to face teaching during their isolation period.
“The increase in numbers comes in the week after students returned to university and reflects the good access to and availability of testing, as well as rigorous and robust reporting systems. In parts of the UK where universities started term earlier, numbers of student cases surged in induction week, and then reduced.
“We are making it clear to students that if they break the rules they will be subject to fines from police and disciplinary action by the Universities which may include fines, final warnings or expulsion.”
Councillor Irim Ali, Newcastle City Council’s cabinet member for neighbourhoods and public health, praised the “incredible lengths” Newcastle and Northumbria universities had gone “to create Covid-secure environments”.
She added: “Sadly, a small number of students are undermining these efforts and, at a time when Covid infection rates are rising across the region, it is welcome that the universities are recognising this and warning those who break the rules about their conduct.
“We are working alongside both universities to support those students who are self-isolating, and have mobilised volunteers to deliver food packages and other essential items to those confined to their accommodation.
“But while work continues to control ongoing outbreaks, we need all students to comply with the regulations and guidance.”
A member of staff at Northumbria University who asked to remain anonymous said there was more face-to-face teaching there than at other universities in the region.
The source told PA: “We have high anxiety levels among staff and students who have a sense that the establishment is not listening to those anxieties about face-to-face teaching.
“There’s a lot of frustration because almost everything that we deliver face-to-face could be done much more safely online.
“There’s confusion about why we are not following other universities in the region who I think moved online earlier, pre-empting this.”