Greater Manchester and Lancashire braced for Tier 3 as talks continue
Discussions are continuing between local leaders and the Government over the extension of coronavirus controls, with Greater Manchester and Lancashire at risk of having the toughest restrictions.
Ministers were holding talks with MPs and other leaders in those regions on Thursday morning ahead of Health Secretary Matt Hancock giving a Commons update on the measures.
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, who has been resisting following the Liverpool City Region into Tier 3 restrictions, was to hold talks with No 10 as he demands greater financial support.
His region and Lancashire are under pressure to accept the controls set out for “very high” risk areas, which would see bars, gyms and betting shops forced to close at the very least.
The Government was also holding talks with London MPs, with the capital at threat of shortly being moved into Tier 2 restrictions, which would ban household mixing indoors, including in pubs and restaurants.
Mr Burnham said he was expecting to have a further meeting with Boris Johnson’s team after receiving a briefing with the deputy chief medical officer for England Dr Jenny Harries on Wednesday.
Business minister Nadhim Zahawi did not rule out imposing the restrictions regardless of local support, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “All I would say to Andy Burnham… I hope we can continue to work together, this is not a time for division.
“It’s important that we look at how we actually suppress this virus because the alternative is much worse for the people of Manchester and the rest of the country.”
The talks were to take place amid reports the Government’s Joint Biosecurity Centre had recommended most of the North West and North East of England, as well as parts of Yorkshire and the Midlands, should be moved into Tier 3.
Mr Khan was also continuing discussions with ministers on Thursday.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, he said that with the infection rate approaching approaching 100 cases per 100,000 head of population, new measures would be needed “very soon” – possibly as early as this week.
He joined other regional leaders in calling for more significant financial support for businesses and individuals facing hardship from the measures.
Professor Calum Semple, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) informing the Government’s Covid-19 response, said Manchester and other regions are in need of Tier 3 measures.
“There is always going to be some friction between the focus on the numbers of case, and the need to keep the economy going, but from a purely academic point of view where I’m coming from, if you allow the numbers to rise it inevitably has an impact on the economy because you start to lose the capacity to deliver these other essential services,” he told BBC Breakfast.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland is braced for the toughest controls in the UK so far with pubs and restaurants set to close for four weeks from Friday and schools facing a two week shutdown.
And the UK Government described a decision by the Welsh Government to ban travel to the country from other parts of the UK with high levels of coronavirus infection as “disappointing”.
Mr Johnson remains desperate to avoid any form of national lockdown – despite demands from Labour for a temporary “circuit-breaker” to break the train of transmission and stem the spread of the disease.
In the Commons on Wednesday, he urged Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to use his influence with Labour authorities in the North to agree to “stringent measures” to get the rates down.
But in an online press conference, Mr Burnham said that if Greater Manchester was placed into Tier 3 it would be “by imposition, not consent”.
He warned that he could take legal actions to ensure residents were protected from the economic fallout of tougher restrictions.
“We are law abiding people, we would respect the law of the land,” he said.
“But we would consider other routes, legal routes, where we could protect our many thousands of residents who are going to be left in severe hardship in the run up to Christmas.”
Meanwhile, the Government’s former homelessness adviser Dame Louise Casey has warned the offer of two-thirds pay for workers whose employers close would not “cut it”.
Under the furlough scheme, the Government paid 80% of workers’ wages until August, with the scheme winding down until it is fully closed at the end of the month.
A separate Job Support Scheme, which launches on November 1 and lasts for six months, will involve the Government paying two-thirds of each employee’s salary – up to a maximum of £2,100 a month – if their employer is legally required to close their premises because of restrictions.
Dame Louise told the BBC: “There’s this sense from Downing Street and from Westminster that people will make do. Well, they weren’t coping before Covid.
“It’s like you’re saying to people, ‘You can only afford two-thirds of your rent, you can only afford two-thirds of the food that you need to put on the table.'”
Meanwhile, Sir Keir is continuing to press for a national “circuit-breaker” following the disclosure that Sage recommended such a move last month.
He was bolstered by a YouGov poll showing 68% of adults in Great Britain would support a two-week shutdown to coincide with the October half term break.