With even the prime minister getting confused about the new lockdown rules in north-east England, many people living in the region have expressed frustration that the response to rising Covid-19 cases just doesn’t seem to “make sense”.
From Wednesday, people in Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside and Sunderland will be subjected to hefty fines if they mix with other households in indoor venues, such as pubs, bars and restaurants.
Mick McCarthy, 64, a retired nurse living with his wife in the village of Seahouses, on the Northumberland coast, said the blanket restriction had been poorly thought out. “We have lots of visitors [in Seahouses] but for the moment the levels of local infection continue to be very small, so it is highly frustrating that the same measures apply throughout Northumberland when it is such a disparate place,” he said.
Friends are due to stay in a local B&B in the tourist hotspot, but under the latest measure the couple will not legally be able to socialise with them in their home, garden or at a public venue. “I want to avoid Covid, but I also want to live in a society that makes sense,” McCarthy said. “Close everybody down, stop them moving around, stop them coming on holiday and we can live with that. Allowing people to come here but we can’t talk to them – that doesn’t make sense.”
Some people said the negative effect on their wellbeing could outweigh positive efforts to curb the virus. Sasha Griffiths, 20, a second-year English literature student at Durham University, said going to venues such as Wetherspoons over the past week had been a lifeline. “It is obviously difficult because it’s expensive [to go out] as a student but without being able to go to people’s houses, we don’t really have many other options,” she said, speaking from her tiny room in a shared house in the city.
Griffiths has only two hours of face-to-face time with course leaders each week and studies at home alongside five other students, four of them relative strangers. “Being able to have a chat with actual friends had been helping with dealing with what’s going on at the minute with university,” she said.
While she did not disagree with the need for further action on coronavirus, she believed the ban on socialising had overlooked young people. “A lot of the measures are tailored towards people who live with their husband and kids, rather than young people who don’t really live in stable situations.”
In Newcastle city centre, David King, a pub owner, said he was unsure whose responsibility it would be to identify groups of revellers not in the same social bubble or household. Until now, the City Tavern had relied on customers to follow the advice, but “if the onus shifts away from the individual to the licensee or restaurateur [under the new legislation] it would be an impossible task”, he said.
The family focused pub, close to the city’s main shopping strip, had offered table service to groups of six and closed at 10pm ever since it reopened on 4 July, but had still lost custom because nearby music venues and theatres were closed.
Meanwhile, Richard McDonald, 49, who runs a stocktaking business supplying about 50 pubs and restaurants in Newcastle, thought the new measure would be a “slow death by strangulation for hospitality venues” because people would be put off going out at all. “It’ll be absolutely desperate. I’d rather we just locked down now for a fortnight, because at minute nobody knows what to do and everybody’s losing money,” he said.