More than two million people in West Yorkshire are moving into the highest level of coronavirus restrictions despite one council leader saying the support package will not be enough.
People living in Leeds, Bradford, Calderdale, Wakefield and Kirklees will join more than eight million others across northern England and the Midlands in Tier 3 from Monday morning.
Leeds City Council chief executive Tom Riordan said the authorities had secured a financial support package from the Government worth an additional £59.3 million.
Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake told a press conference this cash was additional to the existing business grant arrangements previously announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak for Tier 2, saying this was a “major policy shift” which justified the length of negotiations with officials and ministers.
But the leader of Bradford Council, Susan Hinchliffe, said: “Let’s be clear, further economic restrictions on Bradford and West Yorkshire are going to be damaging for businesses and jobs.
“There is a ‘template’ of funding available from Government to support these businesses but I do not think it will be enough.
“Neither were Government in the mood to give us more.
“Government are seriously underestimating the economic impact of these measures and we in West Yorkshire will challenge them to improve upon them.”
Another West Yorkshire council leader, Kirklees’s Shabir Pandor, said: “Today we have reluctantly accepted the Government’s proposals that will see the West Yorkshire region move into Tier 3 restrictions.
“Due to the significant increase in infection rates, the Government concluded this to be a necessary action.”
Julian Hartley, chief executive of Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, told the virtual press conference the city’s hospitals were currently caring for 268 Covid patients – a figure higher than in the first wave of the pandemic – and an increase of 243 since September 23.
He confirmed that some elective surgery had been halted as operating theatres were being used for critical care.
The city’s director of public health Victoria Eaton said the latest case rate for Leeds is 416.7 per 100,000 people.
Ms Eaton said a “cause of concern” was that, for the first time on Wednesday, the age group with the highest number of cases was 30 to 44 rather than 16 to 29.
She said the situation is “incredibly challenging at the moment”.
Jason McCartney, the Conservative MP for Colne Valley, West Yorkshire, said on Twitter: “Disappointed that Kirklees along with the rest of West Yorks will be going into Covid Alert Level Very High/Tier 3 from midnight Sunday night but cases, hospitalisations & sadly deaths are rising.”
The announcement about West Yorkshire came after local authority sources in the West Midlands said Tier 3 would be imposed “by the end of next week or the start of the following week”.
Mayor of the region Andy Street said on Thursday that “no decision has yet been made locally nor by central Government in regards to some or all of the West Midlands Combined Authority area moving from Tier 2 to Tier 3”.
He said in a statement: “There are active conversations between local leaders as to what would be needed from a Tier 3 support package.”
Mr Street added: “I know many will question why there is talk of Tier Three despite our current rate of infection being lower than those in other parts of the country when they entered the highest tier of restrictions.
“But if our cases continue to rise, we must protect our hospitals and by acting before our cases reach the levels seen elsewhere we have a better chance of the restrictions working.”
But Ian Ward, leader of Birmingham City Council, said: “Given the rising case rate and other factors, a move to Tier 3 would seem to be inevitable at some stage.”
Other local authority officials attending Tier 3 talks about the Midlands this week told the PA news agency a move to the toughest controls is “a matter of when, not if”. However, council leaders were not united on the detail of what controls should apply.
Further north, Jacob Young, Conservative MP for Redcar, North Yorkshire, said he thought the Tees Valley will be placed in the toughest Tier 3 restrictions “within the next week or so” as leaders of seven local authorities in the North East met to discuss the ongoing Covid situation.
In a statement, the leaders said: “We have gone from being one of the areas with the worst rates of infection to being more in line with what is happening across the UK.
“Our Directors of Public Health met with the Chief Medical Officer yesterday (October 28), who agreed our region’s data was plateauing, but it is clear the situation the North East still finds itself in is concerning.”
Further talks about the North East are expected next week.