LONDON — Residents and businesses in the city of Liverpool — known for its tourism, night life and music scene as the birthplace of The Beatles — were put into a strict lockdown Wednesday, with a backlash already underway against the government's new rules.
The city region is now the only part of the country that is deemed to be at a "very high" risk level. Households can no longer mix indoors or outdoors, gyms, leisure centers and casinos must close, as well as pubs and bars unless they serve food.
Business leaders and residents reacted to the new restrictions Wednesday, saying the next few weeks and months will be tough. Music venues and bars, key parts of Liverpool's culture and nightlife, are expected to suffer the most.
"It's all about getting through and coming out the other side," Jon Keats, director of the Cavern Club, the music venue that regularly played host to The Beatles in the 1960s, said in a video posted on Twitter Tuesday.
"I think it's going to be a very tough six months ahead for Liverpool, for everybody," Keats said.
The Cavern Club director was announcing that the club had been successful in its application to the U.K.'s Arts Council for a grant of £525,000 (around $679,000) to see it through the crisis. It was going to use half the funding to get more live musicians back in the club, but given the new restrictions Keats said the club would revert to a "plan B" to live-stream musicians instead.
Liverpool and its immediate environs have the worst infection rates in the U.K. currently. Government data shows that the rate of cases in northwest England, which includes Liverpool and Manchester (another virus hotspot), stands at 1,802 per 100,000 people.
The northwest has around 40% of all Covid-19 cases, with an eight-fold increase in patients being admitted to hospital. Currently, 30% of the northwest's intensive care capacity is taken up with Covid-19 patients.
Government medical advisors warned earlier this week, when the new restrictions were announced Monday, that in four weeks' time the northwest could see more patients in intensive care than at the peak of the first wave, unless action is taken.
The lockdown has prompted a backlash among many residents who question some of the logic behind it, and who resent the government in London imposing the strict measures, even though Westminster politicians insisted they had discussed the measures with local leaders ahead of the announcement.
The lockdown in Liverpool was trending on social media Wednesday morning. This was accentuated by a Twitter storm, with posts showing videos of young people partying in the streets on Tuesday night before the stringent restrictions were imposed.
Liverpool's mayor, Joe Anderson, said the pictures of people dancing in the streets and surrounding a police car "shame our city."
The backlash is being aimed at the government in London, with some seeing the move as cementing the longstanding north-south divide in the U.K.
Another Twitter user commented Wednesday that the U.K. government had "tried for nearly 40 years to crumble our city's economic strength and to break our spirits. Liverpool is a city like no other in the UK - the people are for the people and we stand together," he said, adding that "Scousers" — people from Liverpool — "will always prevail."
Another questioned the reasoning behind the lockdown restrictions in Liverpool: "There is no logic in shutting pubs casinos and gyms, and then at the same time keeping schools, restaurants and universities open. We're run by utter idiots," he said.
Under England's new three-tiered Covid-19 alert system, the "very high" alert level applies to the areas of greatest concern but Liverpool is the only place, so far, to qualify for that level.
As well as the restrictions on hospitality and leisure venues, wedding receptions are not permitted and the government has advised residents against traveling outside their local area, or for others to travel into the city.
"People should avoid staying overnight in another part of the UK if they are resident in the Liverpool City Region and avoid staying overnight in the Liverpool City Region if they are resident elsewhere," the government advised.
The British government has given the Liverpool city area £14 million for compliance and enforcement of the rules, and to enhance the local coronavirus test and trace system.