Saturday, 28 Nov 2020

Army on standby as Manchester faces showdown on tier 3 lockdown

Britain’s armed forces are at the ready to provide support if Manchester is plunged into a tier three lockdown, a Government minister has said.

Mayor Andy Burnham has been given until midday today to accept the strictest tier of local lockdown, following a 10 day standoff with Downing Street.

Leaders in Greater Manchester say not enough support has been offered to soften the economic blow of the restrictions, which would see bars and pubs forced to close their doors completely.

Business Minister Nadhim Zahawi announced today that £22million has been offered to the region, equivalent to 8 per person.

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he said there would be ‘additional support commensurate with what we have done in Liverpool City Region and in Lancashire’, which are currently on third tier lockdowns.

Zahawi told Sky News: ‘I hope Andy Burnham, who I have worked extensively with, will agree to this.

‘I think it’s a good package – £22million for Manchester and more to come if Andy wants to negotiate.

‘In the next couple of weeks you’re going to see, again if the current trajectory carries on, more infections in the first spike back in March and April.

‘We owe it to the people of Manchester to work together, and let’s make this happen now.

‘We’ll put more support in from the army if they need it, any kind of support they’re looking for.

‘But let’s agree this as we’ve done with London, Liverpool, Lancashire and other places.’

When asked what Number 10 would do if Manchester refused today’s 12pm deadline, Zahawi Boris Johnson would have to ‘put the lives of the people of Greater Manchester ahead of all of our interests’.

At a Downing Street conference on Friday, the Prime Minister warned he would ‘intervene’ if the North West county kept on turning down a tier three deal.

It comes after the Government warned Greater Manchester would run out of intensive care beds in less than a month, based on Number 10’s own projections.

Downing Street was criticised by Burnham for a ‘selective use of statistics’. In a joint letter with Manchester City Council leader Sir Richard Leese, he said the area’s ICU occupancy is ‘not abnormal for this time of year’, claiming it is comparable to the same time last year.

The county’s lead for coronavirus response Professor Jane Eddleston denied this, insisting the system can ‘cope’ and that they would ‘bring more beds into play’.

However Number 10 admitted the figures did not include Manchester’s NHS Nightingale Hospital, designed to deal with an overspill of coronavirus patients.

Burnham accused ministers of acting provocatively by issuing a statement on Monday night warning that the Government had no choice to act due to the deteriorating situation in county.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said there were now ‘more Covid-19 patients in Greater Manchester hospitals than in the whole of the South West and South East combined’.

He added: ‘Despite recognising the gravity of the situation, local leaders have been so far unwilling to take the action that is required to get this situation under control.

‘I have written to local leaders this evening to make clear that if we cannot reach agreement by midday (on Tuesday) then I must advise the Prime Minister that despite our best endeavours we’ve been unable to reach agreement.’

Burnham said he would ‘try to be positive and respond, and see if we can find a way forward’ despite the ‘slightly provocative move’ by the Government.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘The letter is odd in that it is both an ultimatum but it references potential additional support that could be given to us. The thing is, we’ve never been given a figure for that additional support.

‘What I’ll be proposing to the Greater Manchester leaders when we meet this morning, quite early, is that we write to the Government setting out what we think a fair figure is for that support, given we’ve been under restrictions for three months and that has taken a real toll on people and businesses here.

‘The second thing we would need is full flexibility to support the people that we think are going to need to be supported in a tier three lockdown.’

Sir Richard Leese also said he still hoped it would be possible to find an agreed way forward in the hours remaining.

He acknowledged they would have no choice but to comply if ministers decided to impose tier three restrictions.

He told BBC2’s Newsnight: ‘I am hoping that tomorrow (Tuesday) morning we will be able to sit down again with ministers and come to an agreement which will serve the best interests of the people of Manchester.

‘Clearly if Government imposes tier three – and I hope that won’t happen – we will clearly need to comply with that.’

The imposition of tier three controls would mean a ban on households mixing – including in private gardens or outdoor hospitality settings, while pubs and bars will be forced to close unless they serve meals.

So far only Liverpool City Region and Lancashire have come under the tightest restrictions in England, in each case with the agreement of local leaders.

Nottingham currently has the highest infection rate in England, with 711.3 cases per 100,000 people, but is still on the tier two list.

It is thought the city has escaped the harshest level of restrictions because hospitals aren’t currently crowded enough and because cases haven’t spread significantly to older residents.

The biggest coronavirus hotspot within Greater Manchester is in Rochdale, with 469.4 cases per 100,000 people, the seventh highest infection rate in England.

At the start of the month the city of Manchester had the worst infection rate in England, but now it ranks 13th with 424.7 cases per 100,000 people.

Its rate has fallen consistently for the past eight days, with numbers down 25% from its peak, the Manchester Evening News reports.

Infection rates are also dropping in the Trafford and Stockport areas of Greater Manchester, but they are up last week in Rochdale, Wigan, Salford, Oldham, Bolton, Bury, and Tameside.

The largest increase has been in Bolton (28%), where the infection rate is now 398.5 per 100,000.

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