Coronavirus: Forget the tier system, the Sheffield mayor like the Labour leader thinks more must be done

Dan Jarvis is just about the only person in Sheffield’s mayoral office block overlooking the redeveloped Park Hill estate on the outskirts of the city. 

His staff’s belongings are packed up in boxes on their desks with just a skeleton team now coming into work.

The prime minister asked us to work-from-home where possible over three weeks ago, and the metro mayor of the Sheffield City Region is following the guidelines to the letter.

But he’s sceptical that the next raft of lockdown measures announced on Monday, over a hundred miles away in Westminster, will work to drive down infection and limit hospital admissions in this part of South Yorkshire.

Sheffield is now in the top 10 English hotspots for weekly infection rates.

“The reality is that nobody in Whitehall could possibly have an understanding of the situation on the ground in places like Sheffield, Manchester and Leeds, so we need to have joined up government we need to be working together,” he tells me.

Sheffield will on Wednesday go into the “High” tier with new restrictions banning people meeting other households in any indoor setting – including pubs and restaurants.

But in this part of the North, pubs and bars won’t have to shut.

For Mr Jarvis, being in this second tier is a pyrrhic victory.

On the one hand it means businesses can remain open, but he fears this light touch approach to this grave disease won’t be enough to keep it at bay.

If he could get the economic support package he says Sheffield needs, he’d back further lockdown rules immediately.

“From a public health point of view, we’re not convinced that the restrictions that are brought in will do the job of reducing the rate of reinfection but we’ve also got to look at the state of our economy as well,” he says.

“I think it’s likely that there will be further restrictions introduced on the public health side. They need to come hand in glove with additional economic support measures.”

He also tells me he wished the prime minister had implemented some of the restrictions recommended by the government’s scientific advisory group three weeks ago.

A two-week “circuit break”; closure of pubs, bars and even hairdressers; a ban on any household mixing were all options on the table that the prime minister chose not to take.

Does he wish some of this had been implemented when he looks at the infection rates on his patch?

“Yes. Because winter hasn’t bitten yet. The pressure on the NHS will be severe over the coming weeks and months. So there is an imperative to get a grip on this and actually reduce infection as quickly as possible.

“So I’m surprised the government didn’t listen more closely to the recommendations that were made.”

From local politics to national – Labour metro mayors from Dan Jarvis to Andy Burnham aligned with their party leader Keir Starmer who on Tuesday made the most decisive call of his leadership yet, demanding the government follow the science and implement a two or three week circuit break.

In a brief news conference, Sir Keir moved from “constructive opposition” to near all-out war.

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The Labour leader made it clear on Tuesday that he believed Boris Johnson has made a critical misstep by ignoring his scientists’ calls for stricter measures.

The prime minister’s attempt to tread a careful path between keeping the economy open and protecting public health is looking even more perilous.

The Labour leader has calculated that it is likely the prime minister will be forced to introduce stricter measures before the winter is out, and by getting ahead of his rival, he can show he was on the right side of the argument.

The risk is obvious, but the upside obvious too if his calculation is right.

But Sir Keir is also being helped by the politics of the governing party.

While the Labour Party has fallen in behind their leader, the Conservative Party is increasingly divided over how to handle the second wave and the prime minister appears more and more adrift.

He is being assailed not just by the usual suspects but by his own MPs too.

Forty-two Conservative MPs voted against the 10pm curfew in the Commons on Tuesday night.

A symbolic vote with deadly intent: they have the numbers to defeat the government’s 80-seat majority.

In Sheffield, local leaders think it’s only a matter of time before this city is forced to shut down.

Opting for another lockdown is a move this prime minister doesn’t want to make.

But soon he might find he can’t afford not to – it will come not just at a huge national cost, but a political one too.

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