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Extended lockdown will hurt businesses but may be necessary, says West Midlands Mayor

By Richard Guttridge | Coronavirus | Published:

The coronavirus lockdown will be more damaging for businesses the longer it continues, West Midlands Mayor Andy Street has warned.

Andy Street

But he said he hoped the Government support package would ensure most survive and vowed the region would bounce back from the crisis once it is over.

Mr Street admitted tough times would be ahead, with a recession thought to be a likely consequence of coronavirus.

He also said he was not surprised that the West Midlands had seen the most cases after London but predicted different parts of the country would begin to level out over time.

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But he accepted it would be worse for businesses the longer it goes on.

There are fears about how pubs and restaurants would survive part or a whole summer without trade if the lockdown was to be extended for months, as some have suggested could happen.

Italian restaurant chain Carluccio’s and rent-to-own retailer BrightHouse both collapsed into administration on Monday, putting around 4,400 jobs at risk,

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Conservative Mayor Mr Street also said he did not believe that if the measures were taken sooner the UK could have been further down the line in tackling coronavirus, following criticism from some quarters that the Government has acted too slowly.

He said: "The longer it goes on the more damaging it is going to be. But that is the purpose of labour support. The payment of people's salaries was to give people certainty over the medium term.

"It is a good thing the Government's actions have been decisive. The reaction has been swift but we need to see the cash flowing."

He added: "The more we all observe it the better the suppression of the disease and the sooner the measures are able to end."

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The mayor said a regional economic group had been formed, which will feature input from business bodies and council officials, to ensure firms "come storming back" and that "losses are minimised".

He also said there had been a huge reduction in public transport usage over the last few days following a chaotic first 48 hours after the Prime Minister's lockdown announcement when images of packed trains emerged.

Mr Street said it was crucial travel between towns and cities continues to allow key workers to get where they need to be.

He said: "The reduction in public transport usage is 86 per cent. A huge majority of people have heeded the advice to travel only if absolutely necessary.

"What we have been able to do is maintain all services, with reduced frequency, and we have been able to ensure people can social distance on those services."

Mr Street said hospitals in the region were coping with coronavirus at the moment and that he hoped the new temporary hospital at Birmingham's NEC would help ease the pressure.

He said: "I think it's probably no surprise that after London the West Midlands has the highest level of infection. We are the second biggest urban area, a dense area.

"The problems we see in the West Midlands are because it is early on in the curve. I think what we are going to see is there won't be as much difference at the end of this than the beginning.

"I have spoken to a lot of health trust directors and what they have told me is hospitals are managing the situation as it currently is."

The Mayor also dismissed suggestions starting the lockdown earlier would have made a big difference.

"I don't think it's true to say we would have been through the worst of it. Italy and France introduced measures before we did and they are not through the worst," he said.

"It's impossible to say when the restrictions should have come in. What is absolutely clear is with the level of contagion of this disease, this lockdown is appropriate and will defeat it.

"Now we're in it we have got to comply with it."

Richard Guttridge

By Richard Guttridge
Investigations Editor - @RichG_star

Investigations Editor for the Express & Star.

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