Covid: Confusion over fresh talks in Manchester Covid row

4 days ago 55

Published4 minutes ago

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image captionGreater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, along with other leaders in the region, is resisting the PM's call to enter the highest level of restrictions

People in Greater Manchester are facing confusion over Covid-19 rules, as local leaders denied Downing Street's claim that talks have been arranged to resolve a row.

No 10 told the BBC it had arranged a call with the region's mayor, Andy Burnham, on Sunday morning.

Mr Burnham's office said no such call had been scheduled.

It comes as tighter rules kicked in for millions of people in England, as areas move up a tier in the new alert system.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday that infection rates in Greater Manchester were "grave" and added: "Each day that passes before action is taken means more people will go to hospital, more people will end up in intensive care and tragically more people will die."

Mr Burnham and other local leaders are resisting a move from tier two to tier three's strict rules on hospitality - pressing instead for more shielding measures for the vulnerable, extra financial aid and stricter local powers to shut down venues breaking virus guidelines.

"We firmly believe that protecting health is about more than controlling the virus and requires proper support for people whose lives would be severely affected by a tier three lockdown," the deputy mayors and council leaders said in a joint statement on Friday.

More than half of England - in excess of 28 million people - is now under extra coronavirus restrictions, as areas have moved up the new three-tier alert system.

Lancashire has joined the Liverpool City Region in the top tier - tier three. Pubs have closed and households cannot mix indoors or in many outdoor settings.

London, Essex, York, Elmbridge, Barrow-in-Furness, North East Derbyshire, Erewash and Chesterfield have moved into tier two, meaning they can no longer mix inside with those from other households, including in pubs and restaurants.

Areas of England in the lowest tier must keep to the nationwide virus rules such as group sizes being capped at six people, and the hospitality industry closing at 22:00.

Meanwhile, calls for a circuit-breaker - a short but strict national lockdown - have been supported by Labour as well as some Conservative MPs.

Kate Green, Labour MP for Stretford and Urmston, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The Labour leaders in Greater Manchester support the call for a national circuit-break because what we're seeing in Manchester today - the rest of the country is coming along behind. The rate is rising everywhere."

Ms Green, who is also shadow education secretary, added that extra restrictions would not be effective without a package of support to "enable people to close their businesses [and] to isolate at home if they need to".

Conservative MP and former health secretary Jeremy Hunt called for an end to the "public war of words" between local and national leaders on Saturday, but added he had "sympathy" for the idea of a circuit-breaker.

Britain's largest teachers' union, the National Education Union, has called for secondary schools in England to shut for two weeks at half term, rather than the traditional one week.

Mr Johnson has said that while he could not "rule anything out", he wants to avoid a national lockdown because of "the damaging health, economic and social effects it would have".

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