Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham is trying to “hold the Government over a barrel” by resisting tougher coronavirus restrictions, the Foreign Secretary has claimed.
Dominic Raab said more action is needed in the North West city to avoid a second nation lockdown and urged Mr Burnham to “do the right thing by the people of Manchester”.
A furious political row between local politicians and Westminster has so far prevented Greater Manchester being moved into Tier 3 – the most severe restrictions.
Mr Burnham has said that what is proposed goes far beyond just closing pubs and bars and is not guaranteed to bring the outbreak under control. MPs and other council chiefs have also criticised the plan.
But the Foreign Secretary insisted tougher restrictions were needed to control the rise in coronavirus cases.
He told BBC Breakfast: “Ultimately we need to take action – we can’t have a situation as we have seen in Manchester where Andy Burnham is effectively trying to hold the Government over a barrel over money and politics when actually we need to take action.
“The cases there are 470 per 100,000, so it is very serious, and we must take action in the interest of the people of Manchester and the wider area, and if we take those targeted actions in those areas most affected… we get through this and we avoid the national level lockdown.”
Mr Burnham, responding on Twitter, said: “It’s not about what we want for ourselves, Dominic Raab. It’s about what we want for low-paid and self-employed people everywhere: fairness.”
In a joint statement, Mr Burnham, North Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll and Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram called for an 80% furlough scheme for all people affected by regional lockdowns.
They said: “Paying two-thirds of salaries will not be enough to protect the jobs of thousands – it should at least match the 80% that was available under furlough, with the minimum wage as the minimum support.
“The Universal Credit top-up is not the answer. It doesn’t help everybody and takes weeks to come through. It will not prevent severe hardship for thousands of low-paid workers before Christmas.
“But we won’t forget the self-employed and freelancers and other business who will be affected by these lockdowns, they also need support and we stand firm for those too. This is a fight for what is right.”
Liverpool City Region is the only area of England currently under Tier 3, but the latest figures suggest the weekly rate of new cases continues to rise.
For the seven days to October 11 it stood at 676.6 per 100,000 people. This is up from 580.1 in the week before (seven days to October 4), and 342.7 the week before that (seven days to September 27).
By contrast the weekly rate for Manchester has fallen. It was 473.0 cases per 100,000 people in the week to October 11, down from 558.0 in the week to October 4. Before that, in the week to September 27, it was 307.5.
Meanwhile, separate figures presented to Government scientists suggested around 47,000 Covid-19 infections are occurring daily across England, with deaths expected to hit 240 to 690 per day by October 26.
The Medical Research Council (MRC) biostatistics unit at Cambridge University published new predictions on October 12 on how fast the epidemic is growing across the country.
In a report, the MRC said: “Our current estimate of the number of infections occurring each day across England is 47,000.
“We predict that the number of deaths each day is likely to be between 240 and 690 on October 26.”
They said the daily number of infections was within the range of 28,900 to 74,900 per day, with the best estimate being 47,000.
The latest Government figures showed 18,980 lab-confirmed coronavirus cases as of 9am on Thursday, while a further 138 deaths were reported.
Half the population of England – 26.7 million people – will face stricter lockdown coronavirus measures from Saturday.
London will move into Tier 2 of the alert system from midnight on Friday, banning people from separate households mixing indoors – including in pubs and restaurants.
Essex, Elmbridge, Barrow-in-Furness, York, North East Derbyshire, Erewash and Chesterfield will also move into the second tier of measures.
However, the Government’s measures have been criticised by scientists.
Professor Jeremy Farrar, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said the ongoing division between Westminster and local leaders is “very damaging to public health”.
Speaking to the BBC’s Newscast podcast, Prof Farrar said the tightest restrictions currently in place were not enough, and warned the longer the Government left employing more stringent restrictions, the greater the potential pressure on the NHS.
Professor Graham Medley, an expert in infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and member of Sage, said that in terms of healthcare “some areas are going to be back to the same kind of position they were at the end of March”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We are struggling at the moment to understand how we’re balancing that imperative of having to prevent healthcare being completely overwhelmed, and yet how to mitigate against the damage caused by the intervention, which of course is huge.”
– Northern Ireland will enter the toughest controls in the UK so far with pubs and restaurants to close for four weeks as of Friday evening while schools face a two-week shutdown.
– Welsh Secretary Simon Hart said a ban proposed by the Welsh Government – due to come into force at 6pm on Friday – on people entering the country from UK coronavirus hotspots “risks stirring division and confusion”.
– Nicola Sturgeon said a new tiered system in Scotland will “strengthen our resilience to live with this virus” when it replaces temporary measures due to end on October 25.