Mayor Andy Burnham and the leaders of Greater Manchester's 10 local authorities - including Tameside and Oldham councils - have issued a joint statement insisting that the severest Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions should not be imposed on the region.
Greater Manchester - which includes Tameside and Oldham - has avoided a shutdown of pubs and bars for now as it is currently under Tier 2 in the new system for coronavirus restrictions, which comes into force today (Wednesday).
Among the key restrictions now in place are:
- Pubs and bars will remain open but with the 10pm curfew still in place
- No household mixing indoors is allowed in any setting e.g. restaurants
- Household mixing outdoors is allowed but the rule of six applies - including in private gardens
- Gyms and other leisure venues will remain open
But a 'gold command' meeting within the government is due to be held on Wednesday to discuss whether Greater Manchester - among other areas - should be put on "very high" alert (Tier 3) instead.
If that was to happen, pubs and bars would have to close - except where they operate as a restaurant, meaning they can only serve alcohol with a substantial meal.
Households would also be banned from mixing both indoors and outdoors in hospitality venues or private gardens. People would still be able to meet in groups of up to six people from different households in outdoor public spaces like parks. Read more about what it would mean on the government website here.
Further restrictions may be agreed for particular regions in the top tier.
The Liverpool City Region is the only area of England to have been given the strictest set of measures so far.
'We believe the Tier 3 proposal is fundamentally flawed'
In their lengthy joint statement, mayor Burnham and council leaders - including Tameside's Brenda Warrington and Oldham's Sean Fielding - branded proposals to move the region into Tier 3 as "fundamentally flawed" and "unacceptable", and stated they "reject" the government's "drive to pile pressure on places to enter Tier 3".
They said: "We do not believe we should be put into Tier 3 for two reasons.
"First, the evidence does not currently support it. The rate of Covid infection in Greater Manchester is much lower, at 357.6 cases per 100,000, compared to Liverpool City Region which is in Tier 3 at 488.0 cases per 100,000. Plus our hospital admission rate is much lower than in LCR as Deputy CMO, Jonathan Van Tam, highlighted in his press conference this week. Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 7-day rolling average Covid patients in beds is at around the 225 mark and in Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust it’s at the 100 mark.
"Second, the financial package accompanying Tier 3 is nowhere near sufficient to prevent severe hardship, widespread job losses and business failure.
"At the Prime Minister’s press conference on Monday, the Chief Medical Officer [Chris Whitty] said that Tier 3 measures would only limit the spread if they included much more widespread business closures than the baseline of pubs. However, the Government has not put in a place an economic package to support this level of business closure.
"For that reason, we believe the Tier 3 proposal is fundamentally flawed. The Government is placing councils in an invidious position. If councils adopt the CMO’s advice, they will better control the virus but cause substantial economic damage which will take a long time to repair. If they only follow the baseline requirements, they will reduce the harm to the economy but fail to bring down the rate of infection. Neither is an acceptable option and that is why the Tier 3 proposal is unacceptable to us as it stands.
"We therefore reject the Government’s current drive to pile pressure on places to enter Tier 3. We take particular issue with the offer of local control of Test and Trace as an incentive to do so. This should be on offer to all local areas and is more likely to be effective in those areas in Tiers 1 and 2."
'National circuit break would be preferable option if situation worsens'
Denton MP Andrew Gwynne has already voiced his support for a 'circuit breaker' lockdown in England, with pressure mounting for coronavirus measures to go further. It follows Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer's statement on Tuesday evening (13 October), in which he called for a "two-to-three week circuit break in England in line with SAGE's recommendation".
A short lockdown would be preferable if the government refuses to provide substantial support, some leaders said.
The joint statement continues: "If the Government pursues its current strategy, we believe it will leave large parts of the North of England trapped in Tier 3 for much of the winter with all the damage that will do. If cases continue to rise as predicted, and the Government continues to refuse to provide the substantial economic support that Tier 3 areas will need, then a number of Leaders in Greater Manchester believe a national circuit break, with the required financial support, would be a preferable option.
"This would create the conditions for a re-set of the Test and Trace service into a more locally-controlled operation which, with cases driven down to a lower level, would be more likely to succeed."
'Only way to defeat the virus is for national and local government to work hand in hand'
They went on to express their disappointment that they found out on Monday that Greater Manchester would be in Tier 2 indirectly from local MPs rather than directly from the government.
They also call for the government to give local authorities the "powers and proper financial package" to ramp up test and trace, enforcement and community engagement locally, as well as a "full financial package" to support all workers affected by restrictions.
"We would welcome the opportunity to have a serious discussion with the Government about these important issues," the statement said.
"We all met with them last Friday and then submitted a detailed letter setting out our proposals. We are extremely disappointed that the Government did not contact us directly on Monday to confirm that we would be in Tier 2; instead, we found out indirectly from local MPs.
"If Government are genuine about their offer to consult with local leaders on restrictions, they should respond to our detailed proposals and treat us with respect as equal partners in the fight against Covid. The only way to defeat the virus is for both national and local government to work hand in hand. We are prepared to upscale local test and trace, enforcement and community engagement but we need national government to give us the powers and proper financial package to do this.
"All of this should be underpinned by a full financial package to support delivery. This includes a furlough scheme of at least 80% of wages offered to all businesses forced to close or severely affected and suffering a serious loss of trade due to restrictions. Businesses should also be offered grant aid commensurate with actual losses incurred as a result of intervention. There should also be support, equivalent to that for employees, for self-employed and freelance workers.
"We remain very concerned that some support and funding that are vital to all areas to reduce the Covid transmission rate are not available to Tier 1 and 2. We believe that’s a mistake. It should be offered to everyone as part of a proactive prevention plan. We would urge Government to rethink this.
"We await keenly the promised engagement and dialogue with Government and stand ready to work with Government to ensure we have the right measures in place in Greater Manchester with the powers and funding we need to make the restrictions work."
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