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Liverpool City Council Chief Executive Tony Reeves says it will take time for the city to re-emerge after the pandemic and restrictions – but he says our actions so far, including UK firsts like mass testing and thinking ahead with a crucial recovery plan, mean it can, and will, happen.
Tony says: “What set us apart from a lot of other places was we saw from the outset that this lockdown and pandemic was going to be very damaging to the economy and was going to lead to a prolonged economic shutdown for key sectors, and that we needed to be planning for recovery right from then.
“We started work in the first couple of weeks of the first lockdown back in March last year to plan economic recovery and submitted a plan to the government about six weeks before anyone else in the country.
“And we have been working hard to implement that plan ever since.”
He says Liverpool successfully re-opened the city after the first lockdown, with creativity to get extra capacity for the hospitality industry with the concept of Liverpool Without Walls, and speed in getting grant payments out quickly to support businesses, while working closely with the private sector to come up with a plan that really worked.
Rather than focusing on the ‘here and now and the crisis’, he adds that, while they didn’t take their eye off that, they sought to reposition the city ‘to come out of Covid as quickly and as successfully as we could’.
The challenge was one of public health and saving lives, and protecting jobs.
Liverpool was the first city to use mass testing and Tony – whose role with his officers and partner organisations like the police, NHS, universities, fire service etc., as well as the voluntary and private sectors, is to shape and implement the strategies and policies of the politicians – says that it worked well and is still working well.
“It’s not a total solution,” he continues. “Nothing is. Even mass vaccination won’t be a total solution to this pandemic – but it is the game-changer in terms of our ability to getting life back to near normal.
“But mass testing has worked.
“We have identified thousands of people who are asymptomatic who, as a result of mass testing took themselves out of circulation and that broke chains of transmission of the infection.
“Without that, infection levels would have been very much worse. “
Levels went from being the highest in the country to really low in the run up to December.
“As a result of that, we were placed in Tier 2 when we came out of the last lockdown which meant that big chunks of our economy like the hospitality sector could reopen for that crucial period in December.”
While that was good for business, he admits that it also had a negative effect with hospitality tourists coming to the city from places like Manchester, London and Yorkshire. It boosted trade but, with those coming in from higher-infection areas, and more mixing, it did cause a spike which they couldn’t – ‘or didn’t’ – foresee.
The case numbers went from less than 100 per 100,000 to 1,000 – the highest number in Liverpool in the whole of the pandemic.
But there is reason to be hopeful.
Current restrictions and continued mass testing mean that transmission chains have again been broken and the number of cases is now coming down rapidly.
“We think they will continue to come down and we’ll be back to 100 or below with any luck within the next week or so and get that rate back under control.”
He says the next 12 months will be crucial, with the aim to get vaccination levels as high as possible and the economy back open safely; as will those beyond.
It will be tough, and there will be further unemployment.
“But we have to do the very best we can, making sure we’re playing to our strengths, that we have got a clear strategy where the public sector and business are working together, and that we really focus on inclusion and getting people back into work as quickly as we can and we create the conditions for accelerated economic growth.”
The cruise industry will come back, he says, along with investment in areas like The nowledge Quarter and Pall Mall.
“This isn’t going to be easy, we have got a tough road ahead … but the strength of partnership we have in the city, the assets that we have, the spirit of Scousers – who are incredibly resilient and absolutely come together like no other communities I have come across in a crisis – all of those things are strengths.
“It’s about doing the right things in the right order, and being bold. We need to lead and be the best we can for Liverpool. The city has a great future.”
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