PM says situation in Manchester is 'grave' and he could force city into Tier 3

16 October 2020, 16:40 | Updated: 16 October 2020, 19:20

By Maddie Goodfellow

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged leaders in Greater Manchester to "reconsider and engage constructively" over Tier 3 restrictions, warning he would "intervene" if an agreement could not be reached.

The Prime Minister told a Downing Street press conference: "On recent trends, in just over two weeks there will be more Covid patients in intensive care than at the peak of the first wave so I urge the mayor to reconsider and engage constructively.

"I cannot stress enough: time is of the essence. 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.

"Of course, if agreement cannot be reached I will need to intervene in order to protect Manchester's hospitals and save the lives of Manchester's residents. But our efforts would be so much more effective if we work together."

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The number of people in intensive care beds in the region is already 40% over what it was during the first peak in spring, the prime minister said.

It follows days of negotiations to place large parts of the North West of England into Tier 3 lockdown.

However, Boris Johnson also said he hopes the most stringent Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions can be lifted as quickly as possible.

The Prime Minister told the news conference: "The amount by which we need to reduce the R is not as big as it was right back in the beginning of the spread of this disease.

"It we all work together on the measures we have outlined we can definitely do it.

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"I'd like to see Lancashire and everywhere else coming out of Tier 3 as fast as possible."

Lancashire will enter Tier 3 lockdown tonight in a bid to slow rising cases.

Greater Manchester's political leaders are continuing to resist pressure from the Prime Minister to accept the highest level of coronavirus restrictions.

On Friday evening, Mr Burnham and council leaders wrote: "At our last meeting with Downing Street officials yesterday morning, we were told they would arrange a further meeting later in the day to provide a response to our requests.

"That did not happen and, despite being on standby all day today, we are still waiting for it to be arranged. We can assure the Prime Minister that we are ready to meet at any time to try to agree a way forward.

"We can also say with confidence that we have done, and will continue to do, everything within our power to protect the health of our residents, including being the first area in the country to agree to local restrictions back in July.

"We are not convinced that closing hospitality venues is the only way to protect hospitals and we want to look at other measures, such as reinstating shielding arrangements and introducing tougher instant closure powers on non-compliant pubs, restaurants, shops and other business premises.

"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-3 lockdown.

"We do not believe that the current proposals provide adequate support and that is why we await further talks."

The new restrictions, which will be reviewed every fortnight, cover all parts of the county, including: Burnley, Blackburn with Darwen, Blackpool, Chorley, Fylde, Hyndburn, Lancaster, Pendle, Preston, Ribble Valley, Rossendale, South Ribble, West Lancashire and Wyre.

The coronavirus rate across the whole of Lancashire is 345.1 cases per 100,000, up from 241.2 in the previous week.

The Labour leader of South Ribble Borough Council in Lancashire, Paul Foster, said local leaders were "blackmailed and forced" by the Government to agree to the terms of the new restrictions, although an extra £30 million of funding was secured.

The Labour leader of Blackpool Council, Lynn Williams, said: "This is not what I wanted for Blackpool. We had no option but to ultimately agree this. Had we not done so, we would have been placed in Tier 3 with no money and no support measures."

Mohammed Iqbal, Labour leader of Pendle Borough Council, said he did not think closing pubs and bars is the "right approach to bring down the level of Covid-19" in the borough.

There has been resistance from leaders in some cities including in Greater Manchester, where Mayor Andy Burnham is demanding a package of funding.

On Friday morning, the mayors of Greater Manchester, the Liverpool City Region and North Tyne issued a joint statement rebutting claims that the North of England is divided.

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"The Government is claiming that the North is divided and only interested in getting what we can for our own region," the statement read.

"We are all united in fighting for an 80% furlough scheme for all people affected by regional lockdowns, wherever they are in the country.

"Paying two-thirds of salaries will not be enough to protect the jobs of thousands - it should match at least the 80% that was available under furlough, with the minimum wage as the minimum support."

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab later accused Andy Burnham of trying to "hold the Government over a barrel" by resisting tougher coronavirus restrictions.

Mr Raab said: "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."

He urged Mr Burnham to "do the right thing by the people of Manchester".

After the Foreign Secretary accused him of trying to "hold the Government over a barrel", Andy Burnham tweeted in response: "It's not about what we want for ourselves, @DominicRaab. It's about what we want for low-paid and self-employed people everywhere: fairness."

However, Downing Street suggested on Friday that no further fiscal support would be provided to Greater Manchester if they moved into Tier 3.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "You can see the package of support which we have put forward, it is a generous package of support to local authorities because we do recognise that these measures will have a huge impact on people's lives.

"As the Chancellor set out earlier this week, local authorities placed into different tiers will receive extra financial support on a per capita basis to support their local areas and local public health teams with the response, whether that is more enforcement, compliance or contact tracing.

"And for local authorities at that High or Very High level, we are supporting public health and local economic initiatives with up to £465 million.

"To protect services we're also providing around £1 billion of additional funding for local authorities on top of the £3.7 billion that we've already provided since March."

The spokesman said he was "not aware" of any new funding for businesses in Tier 2 that are impacted by the change in restrictions to households being allowed to mix indoors.