WITH Boris Johnson’s announcement of a new three-tier system for local authorities, which Cheshire East and West have been added to as ‘high alert’ areas, it marks a significant milestone in the boroughs’ coronavirus fightback.

So, just how did Cheshire find itself with a ban on household mixing?

The summer

Greater Manchester finds itself with extra restrictions being imposed through a Twitter announcement at 9pm — on the eve of Eid.

This method of announcing new, ad-hoc restrictions drew ire from northern leaders, and was the first sign that there was a faltering level of ‘buy-in’ to additional measures from regional authorities.

That was a theme which continued for months, culminating in Andy Preston, mayor of Middlesborough taking to Twitter a fortnight ago to ‘defy’ the newly imposed measures, claiming they were ‘based on ignorance’ and a ‘frightening lack of communication’.

Whilst Preston did then ask residents to follow the rules, it was clear northern leaders’ patience had run out, and any new restrictions could no longer be dictated or unilaterally imposed from Whitehall.

September

The middle of this month saw Cheshire East and West leaders Cllr Sam Corcoran and Cllr Louise Gittins join forces to warn residents that they were in a race against time to halt the path of the virus.

September 18 saw a joint press release issued warning residents not to be ‘complacent’ with their efforts, which was sent just after it was revealed that CWAC’s infection rate had trebled in the first three weeks of the month to 31.8 cases per 100,000.

Next, on September 22, Cllr Corcoran and deputy leader Cllr Craig Browne wrote to Matt Hancock asking for more ‘enforcement powers’ to ensure the existing rules were in place.

This was also the first point at which Cheshire’s representatives began to seriously make noise about running test and trace themselves, with Cllr Corcoran saying: “We have that experience, but the government decided to employ private firms with little experience of public health. The government decided to do that rather than use local authorities.”

In the midst of new testing sites being added, CWAC’s Covid Outbreak board began to meet more regularly — sometimes more than once a week — and on September 28, it approved a consultation with CEC on a request for more restrictions.

That’s because, it was revealed at the time, CWAC and CEC had agreed to work together on any new measures coming in to prevent cross-boundary transmission — so if one borough saw extra controls, so would the other.

At the meeting, Cllr Gittins said: “We would rather do something sooner than later. We need to work with Cheshire East, and we should look to restrict movement between households.

“We need to do this for the greater good, we need to protect the vulnerable. We will work closely with Cheshire East to talk to the government about the possibility of extra restrictions around households mixing with each other.”

That agreement came a day after Cllr Corcoran called for tighter restrictions across the borough and urged residents to go ‘only go out when really necessary’ in a video on Twitter.

Winsford Guardian:

Dr Kieran Mullan MP, who asked the government to communicate its restrictions more clearly

October

The beginning of this month saw more joint announcements to the media that said CWAC and CEC remained committed to working together on the issue.

A ‘detailed, nine page document’ co-signed by CWAC, CEC, and Warrington Borough Council, ‘setting out what is necessary to bring the outbreak under control’ and asking for £45 million worth of financial support was then sent on October 5.

On the same day, CWAC Chief Executive Andrew Lewis said the council expected a decision that week on its additional measures request.

And then radio silence took hold for the rest of the week. No noises were emitted from either council, aside from pleas to follow the existing rules. Crewe and Nantwich MP Dr Kieran Mullan called on the government to communicate restrictions in a clearer way.

Today

Then, following a weekend of rumours that the north was set for an all-out hospitality shut down, announcements slowly trickled through — following region-by-region meetings with the Department for Health.

First came Merseyside, which was handed ‘tier 3’ — very high alert level — status. Next came Greater Manchester, which escaped the worst of it and broadly saw its restrictions stay the same at tier 2.

And, just before Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the Commons, it was revealed following a briefing with Helen Whately, that Cheshire East and West were to be listed as tier 2 as well — high alert status.

The move means residents can no longer mix with other households in any indoor setting — and the rule of six applies for outdoor meet-ups, too.

Cheshire East and Cheshire West and Chester councils have been contacted for comment.