The coronavirus situation on Merseyside is such that I accept that something serious needs to be done. Yesterday in Aintree University Hospital and the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, there were 279 coronavirus-positive patients—the highest number in any English hospital. There is substantial and widespread community transmission, with 600 cases per 100,000, and not only in student areas. There is a worryingly high incidence of spread to vulnerable groups, particularly people over 65 years old, and 31 are in critical care, so something definitely needs to be done.
However, I worry that the way in which the Government have handled the pandemic and its manifestations so far, and the impact that this has had on the situation in the north-west, is not helping. There is a widespread feeling that lockdown was lifted in Liverpool city region before cases had fallen far enough. The failings and increasingly poor performance of the nationally arranged test and trace system are making control of the virus much harder. People are waiting many days to get results. Many contacts of those testing positive are going untraced until it is too late for isolation to make a big difference.
The lack of discussion and candour until recently and even engagement with local leaders, Mayors and MPs means that there is a trust issue. That was worsened by yesterday’s briefing, at which the CMO suggested he was not confident that the tier 3 base measures would stop the epidemic growing, which the Prime Minister told the House they would. We then learned from the SAGE minutes, as my hon. Friend Jonathan Ashworth said, about widespread scientific advice not being followed three weeks ago. We need—I urge the Minister—more transparency and more openness from Government. We do not have enough of that. Let us have the information in real time and let us work on it together.
Most of all, we need proper financial support for the people on Merseyside affected by these serious restrictions. Tier 3 measures are going to devastate some of our lowest-paid workers. We cannot defeat the virus on the cheap and we should not do it on the basis of the living standards of the poorest. The assistance proposed so far is inadequate to the task.
According to the TUC, there are 41,000 people in the city region area who might benefit from the local furlough scheme, but there are many, many thousands more whose businesses will not be forced to close but who will not benefit by one penny from these proposals or from this support. It is not enough. More is going to have to be done to support local people in tier 3 areas and to prevent penury from following the pandemic.