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RULE BREACHES: ‘Flagrant’ breaches at Middlesbrough establishments

RULE BREACHES: ‘Flagrant’ breaches at Middlesbrough establishments

Image: LDRS

A SPATE of “flagrant” rule breaches has sparked fresh pleas for bars, pubs and eateries to toe the line in the wake of easing restrictions.

Middlesbrough Council officials say the vast majority are doing their bit after lockdown measures were eased at the start of this week.

But the authority has revealed a small number of venues are failing to implement proper measures – triggering worries of the virus spreading again.

Pubs, restaurants and other licensed venues are now able to serve food and drink but at outdoor tables only, and are required to collect contact details from all customers.

Response teams visited premises on Monday and found some venues weren’t doing enough to protect customers and staff.

The council says lockdown rule breaches included:

  • Poorly managed and overcrowded queues
  • Groups of more than six at tables or standing up drinking and tables too close together
  • Drinks served to customers at the bar when the law requires food and drink to be ordered, served and consumed only to customers seated outdoors
  • Customers wandering around indoors without face coverings
  • A failure to collect customer contact details using the test and trace QR code or manual recording.

Health and care leaders are anticipating an uptick in cases across Middlesbrough in the coming weeks following the easing of restrictions.

Care director Erik Scollay warned the town “wasn’t out of the trees” yet despite the success of the vaccination programme and falling rates in recent weeks – pointing to the emergence of new variants further afield.

Judith Hedgley, the council’s head of public protection, said the reopening of shops had led to a significant increase in numbers visiting Middlesbrough – with large queues seen at some businesses.

She added: “The vast majority of outlets have been managing customer numbers effectively and are adhering to the current rules which are there to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“Sadly, our officers also visited a number of licensed venues on Monday evening where they found a significant lack of management leading to breaches of the coronavirus laws and an increased risk of spreading the disease.”

The protection chief said venues had been urged to keep music low so punters didn’t have to raise their voices to converse – and risk spreading the virus in conversation.

Mrs Hedgley added: “In some businesses, music levels were so high that speaking without raised voices was not possible.

“We wrote to all licensed venues ahead of Monday to give them advice on what they needed to do to open safely and we have been working with businesses to guide them on the new rules.

“Unfortunately, it was clear that some had not adequately prepared, or were simply overwhelmed by the volume of customers on the evening, and did not have sufficient numbers of staff to ensure the venue could be operated in line with health protection requirements.”

Visits by council teams are set to continue in the coming days and weeks alongside Cleveland Police.

The threat of fixed penalty notices and potential premises licence reviews hang over venues breaking covid laws.

Superintendent Marc Anderson told Thursday’s council culture and communities scrutiny panel how “Operation Tranquility” would be starting up in central Middlesbrough soon – focussing on the night-time economy on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

He said: “It’s probably maybe what you’ve been used to a few years ago – they’ll be targeted patrols in and around licensed premises, and going into licensed premises to have that visible reassurance to prevent crime taking place.”

Council covid figures for the seven days to Friday showed rates in the town stood at 34.8 cases per 100,000 people – with Berwick Hills and Pallister, and Park End and Beckfield clocking the most new cases in the past week.

Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston said lockdown had been devastating for the town centre and hospitality businesses – adding they were “champing at the bit” to open up.

“We’ll be there to help them every step of the way,” he added.

“But we can’t be complacent – we haven’t beaten coronavirus and we can’t take our eye off the ball.

“So it’s more important than ever that everyone – members of the public and businesses alike – continue to follow the rules which include table service to groups of no more than six people, using the NHS test and trace system, maintaining social distancing, and wearing face coverings.

“And when you get the call, get the jab, as the vaccine is the best way to prevent serious illness and deaths related to covid-19, and our way out of the pandemic.”

Words: Alex Metcalfe, Local Democracy Reporter


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