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Coronavirus UK: Boris Johnson backed down from imposing Tier 3 on Manchester amid policing fears

Boris Johnson backed down from plunging Manchester into Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions amid fears police would not enforce the rules without Mayor Andy Burnham’s backing. 

Greater Manchester Police currently answers to the city’s Labour Mayor, while police and crime commissioners – a role filled in Manchester by Mr Burnham – have the power to set strategic priorities for their local constabularies.

This means that police enforcement of restrictions is contingent on the support of Mr Burnham, who is refusing to move the region into Tier Three without a full reinstatement of the furlough scheme. 

Both the Prime Minister and Labour have warned the situation in Greater Manchester is ‘grave’, while the region’s political leaders refuse to accept Tier 3 restrictions without greater financial support for businesses and residents.

However, official figures show that the infection rate is dropping in Greater Manchester and Newcastle despite anti-Covid measures, in a development that risks undermining the Government’s public health messaging.

Nearly 600 coronavirus cases were recorded in Manchester on September 30, which then fell to 377 recorded cases on October 9. On Thursday, there were just two cases in Manchester. In Newcastle, 277 cases were recorded on October 6, which similarly fell down to 170 infections on October 9 and just 10 cases on Thursday. 

Downing Street is now being urged to restart talks with Greater Manchester’s political leaders over the highest levels of coronavirus restrictions after Mr Burnham accused Mr Johnson of treating the North like a ‘sacrificial lamb’ and a ‘canary in the coalmine’ with experimental restrictions. 

Mr Burnham said no meetings had taken place since Thursday morning and there was confusion over whether talks would resume with No 10 over the weekend. 

‘We can assure the Prime Minister that we are ready to meet at any time to try to agree a way forward,’ Mr Burnham and council leaders across the region said in a statement. 

Downing Street indicated a discussion had been arranged for Sunday morning after a message was left with Mr Burnham on Saturday, but the mayor’s camp flatly denied any call having been scheduled. A spokesman for the mayor said: ‘Nothing has yet been arranged.’  

Mr Burnham said the ‘very least’ he would accept was a full reinstatement of the furlough scheme in the region paying 80 per cent of the wages of people unable to work, though this is being ruled out by the Treasury.  

It comes after the Prime Minister hailed an agreement with Lancashire to move the region into the toughest lockdown level, where it joins Liverpool as one of only two areas in the top bracket. 

In other coronavirus developments:   

  • A senior Government adviser warned that only a national circuit-breaker lockdown would suppress virus;
  • Sir John Bell was echoed by Jeremy Hunt, who also called for public war of words on local restrictions to end; 
  • Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson said his brother has died after being admitted to intensive care with Covid;
  • Police fought to enforce coronavirus laws in London  as they faced defiance from protesters and drinkers; 
  • Mr Johnson said the UK is developing the capacity to manufacture millions of fast turnaround tests for coronavirus which could deliver results in just 15 minutes;
  • The National Education Union rowed in behind Sir Keir Starmer’s call for a national circuit-breaker; 
  • The Welsh Government will discuss a circuit-breaker lockdown and will announce decisions on Monday;
  • Some 15,650 coronavirus cases were recorded in the UK on Friday, alongside 136 deaths;  
  • A senior scientist predicted Britain could be carrying out a million coronavirus tests a day by Christmas;
  • The Prime Minister’s attention briefly switched from the pandemic to warn a No Deal Brexit was likely as both London and Brussels ramped up their tough talk. 

Greater Manchester Police currently answers to the city’s Labour Mayor, Andy Burnham while police and crime commissioners – a role filled in Manchester by Mr Burnham – have the power to set strategic priorities for their local constabularies. This means that police enforcement of restrictions is contingent on the support of Mr Burnham, who is refusing to move the region into Tier Three as he accuses Boris Johnson of treating the North like a ‘sacrificial lamb’

Nearly 600 coronavirus cases were recorded in Manchester on September 30, which then fell to 377 recorded cases on October 9. On Thursday, there were just two cases in Manchester

In Newcastle, 277 cases were recorded on October 6, which similarly fell down to 170 infections on October 9 and just 10 cases on Thursday

Nearly 600 coronavirus cases were recorded in Manchester (left) on September 30, which then fell to 377 recorded cases on October 9. On Thursday, there were just two cases in Manchester. In Newcastle (right), 277 cases were recorded on October 6, which similarly fell down to 170 infections on October 9 and just 10 cases on Thursday

Boris Johnson has backed down from imposing Tier 3 Covid restrictions in Manchester amid fears police would not enforce them without Andy Burnham's backing. Pictured: Revellers in Manchester on Friday

Boris Johnson has backed down from imposing Tier 3 Covid restrictions in Manchester amid fears police would not enforce them without Andy Burnham’s backing. Pictured: Revellers in Manchester on Friday

Revellers leaving bars and clubs at 10pm in Lancashire after new lockdown restrictions imposed

Revellers leaving bars and clubs at 10pm in Lancashire after new lockdown restrictions imposed

It comes after Mr Johnson hailed an agreement with Lancashire to move into the toughest lockdown level where it joins Liverpool as the only areas in the top bracket. Pictured: People leaving bars and clubs at 10pm in Lancashire after new lockdown restrictions imposed

Around 1.5 million more people woke up to Tier 3 restrictions when Lancashire joined the Liverpool region living under the severest controls, with pubs and bars closed unless they can serve meals and indoor mixing banned.

Jake Berry, the Conservative MP for Rossendale and Darwen, called for evidence to show the measures work, echoing concerns raised across Greater Manchester.

‘I think that spoonful of scepticism is because we’ve been in very similar measures since August and no one has really demonstrated to us the way out or how these measures are working,’ he told BBC Breakfast.

Meanwhile, shadow Education Secretary Kate Green called for an end to the ‘blame game’ and for discussions to resume to get the region an adequate support package.

The Labour MP for Stretford and Urmston told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘That has not been offered by the Government. There hasn’t even been discussions over the past 24 hours between the Government and Greater Manchester’s leaders. We have to have our local leaders around the table with the Prime Minister or with his representatives to thrash out a deal today.’  

Social distancing safety messages against Covid-19 now greets visitors in Blackpool, Lancashire

Social distancing safety messages against Covid-19 now greets visitors in Blackpool, Lancashire

Mr Johnson said: ‘This is about saving lives. This is about us joining together locally and nationally to get the R down, to make these regional restrictions, this tiering system, work and to save lives.

‘Everybody in Greater Manchester and all the areas that are still finding it difficult should think about it.’

He added: ‘I’d much rather not impose things, I’d much rather that we were able to work out something together with local authorities, with the mayor in Manchester.’   

It comes as a senior Government adviser today warned that only a second national lockdown would achieve the suppression of coronavirus as he blasted other restrictions as ‘biting around the edges’.

Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at the University of Oxford, advocated a national circuit-breaker as he claimed the Government had lost control of an ‘eye-watering’ number of coronavirus cases.

He rubbished suggestions that testing would allow officials to keep the pandemic in check, and called the situation ‘grave’ as he appeared to blame a rise in cases on a national fatigue with the restrictions.  

The top Government adviser then recommended a total shutdown of society and economy in an echo of Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s unprecedented call for a national circuit-breaker on Tuesday.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Sir John said: ‘Things look pretty grave at the moment, and the numbers are going up pretty rapidly. I think the other phenomenon you’re seeing is people are pretty unhappy, they’re tired, this has been going on too long, they can’t go about their business, they can’t do the normal things that they would expect to do, hospital staff are exhausted from the last go.

‘I think we’re actually in real trouble, because as that happens compliance and the willingness to help fix this problem starts to dissipate. Having said that, I can see very little way of getting on top of this without some kind of a circuit-breaker because the numbers are actually pretty eye-watering in some bits of the country and I think it’s going to be very hard to get on top of this just biting around the edges.’ 

He added: ‘No one has ever turned back an epidemic or indeed a pandemic with testing. Testing alone has never solved the problem. It’s one of many tools in the toolbox that you sort of need to get it to work, but in the places that have been successful, like South Korea and to some extent China, their ability to pursue the results of testing aggressively has been extremely important in terms of managing it.

The R rate remains stable for the UK as a whole but it has dropped for the second week in a row in England, falling from a possible range of 1.3 to 1.6 on October 2 to 1.2 to 1.4 today. But SAGE warned today it is 'confident transmission is not slowing' and that cases will continue to grow exponentially for as long as R remains above one

The R rate remains stable for the UK as a whole but it has dropped for the second week in a row in England, falling from a possible range of 1.3 to 1.6 on October 2 to 1.2 to 1.4 today. But SAGE warned today it is ‘confident transmission is not slowing’ and that cases will continue to grow exponentially for as long as R remains above one

‘A majority of people who are infected are not even being identified. So we do have to have a system whereby more ownership is taken by individuals and institutions to make sure that children in schools, students in universities, and people working in businesses stay away from those businesses if they test positive.’

Sir John’s plea for a national clampdown, which would see tougher enforcement of social distancing rules, was then echoed by Jeremy Hunt, who today suggested that he would support a circuit-breaker. 

The former Health Secretary also called for an end to the public war of words over local restrictions, telling the Today programme: ‘I’ve always thought that it’s better to do things quickly and decisively than to wait until the virus has grown so I have a lot of sympathy with that.

‘But I think more important right now is we stop this public war of words between local leaders and national leaders because in a pandemic the most important thing is a consistent message because you really have to have compliance with the very, very important public health messages about social distancing.

‘And if local leaders and national leaders are saying different things, it’s incredibly damaging.

‘I really do urge Andy Burnham and other local leaders to have these arguments, and I’m sure they’re very fierce arguments and I’m sure there’s some justification for some of their concerns, but have those arguments in private not in public because that’s so damaging to the national fight against the virus.’

Test positivity data from Public Health England shows that the proportion of tests taken that have positive results has soared in September and early October, so that 7.1 per cent of all tests taken are now positive - one in every 14  swabs

Test positivity data from Public Health England shows that the proportion of tests taken that have positive results has soared in September and early October, so that 7.1 per cent of all tests taken are now positive – one in every 14  swabs

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