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Business Secretary: Andy Burnham 'must come to the table and reach agreement'

19 October 2020, 09:58 | Updated: 19 October 2020, 11:53

By Maddie Goodfellow

Business Secretary Alok Sharma has called for Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham to "come to the table and reach agreement with the government" as tensions continue over Covid restrictions in the region.

Speaking to Nick Ferrari on LBC, the Business Secretary explained that the R rate across the country is rising, saying: "The current R rate is between 1.2 and 1.4, you are seeing rises all over the place.

"We are having to bring in these local restrictions, and it is on each and every one of us to play our part to get this thing lifted."

Nick then challenged the Business Secretary, asking: "Well, the Mayor of Manchester seeks presumably not to play his part, so why should my listeners?"

"Well I hope the mayor of Manchester will play his part, he hasn't so far but I hope he will," responded the Business Secretary.

The dispute over which tier of restrictions Manchester should be placed under has been building over the past few days, with Boris Johnson saying during a press conference that he may "need to intervene" in the region if a decision cannot be met.

Mayor Andy Burnham is standing firm against the government, saying he does not want the region to enter Tier 3 without the 80 per cent furlough scheme being reinstated in the region in order to help the low paid and struggling businesses.

He told a press conference that the places that will be closed under Tier 3, pubs, betting shops and gyms, "are places where people are on low wages".

Mr Sharma continued: "Andy Burnham will also know that actually if the current rate of infections in Manchester continue over the next two weeks, then you will have more people with Covid in intensive care in Manchester hospitals that in the first peak.

"None of us want that, I'm sure Andy Burnham doesn't want that, we've reached agreements in Merseyside and Lancashire and I hope over the coming day or so we will see resolution in Manchester as well because ultimately this is about keeping people safe.

Liverpool entered into Tier 3 local lockdown restrictions from midnight on Wednesday, with gyms, casinos and pubs that do not serve food forced to close.

It was also announced that Liverpool will receive an extra £30 million to help businesses affected by the restrictions.

Lancashire also entered Tier 3 on Saturday.

When questioned by Nick on why it would take up to two days to reach an agreement on Manchester restrictions, Mr Sharma said: "We want to do this is a collaborative way, but we are getting to the point where we need to make some decisions and ultimately, we are trying to be collaborative.

"With just about everyone else we have managed to do his, and I think Andy Burnham needs to make a decision now and if he wants to ensure that people are safe in Manchester and we get this thing under control then he's going to have to come to the table and reach an agreement with the government."

Asked whether Andy Burnham is putting people's lives at risk in Greater Manchester, Mr Sharma said: "People's lives across the country will be at risk as the R rate goes up.

"But I think we are seeing rising rates of infection and it is incumbent on all of us to get this thing under control.

"I want to do this in a collaborative way, Rob Jenrick, advisors have all been speaking to local leaders and want to reach an agreement.

"There is no doubt the longer this goes on, the greater the risk to people in Manchester."

It comes as the NHS in Manchester said it was monitoring the situation "very very closely" after the Guardian reported that it was running out of beds and that 82 per cent of critical care beds were taken on Friday.

However, a spokesperson said: "It's not unusual for 80-85% of ICU beds to be in use at this time of year and our hospitals work together if there are particular pressures in any one area, to ensure the best care for patients who need the high level of support ICU provides, both for Covid and for other reasons."

Over the weekend, Mr Burnham accused Mr Johnson of exaggerating the severity of the crisis in the region.

In a Sunday TV interview, Mr Burnham said: "I think it was an exaggeration of the position that we're in. Of course it's a matter of concern, and we watch the figures very closely indeed."But the figures have been falling in Manchester itself in the last few days, across Greater Manchester up slightly but certainly not doubling every nine days."