Coronavirus: Oldham facing 'very real threat' of full lockdown as cases rise

Video report by ITV News Correspondent Damon Green

Oldham is facing the "very real threat" of a full-scale lockdown if its coronavirus cases don't fall, its council leader has confirmed.

Comments from Labour councillor Sean Fielding that the town is "resisting" a lockdown follow those of Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who earlier warned Oldham is posing the "biggest challenge" among Greater Manchester areas.

The north-west town is the UK's new coronavirus hotspot, according to the latest data from the NHS, and last week it narrowly avoided following Leicester in being placed under strict lockdown.

Speaking to ITV News, Health Secretary Hancock refused to rule out a full lockdown for the town, which would include a closure of some non-essential businesses.

"No, we don't rule anything out of that kind, in Oldham or anywhere else in the country," he said.

Councillor Fielding told a virtual press conference that a full lockdown is "a very real threat for Oldham, make no mistake at all, but we are resisting it strongly".

He said local lockdown would not be the “right solution” for the area – potentially making the situation “considerably worse” in other ways.

Mr Fielding added the government has communicated with Oldham council that it is "genuinely" considering a local lockdown.

Mr Fielding added: "It’s almost a frustration that the plans that we want to get on with delivering on, in order to bring the infection rate down in the way that we need to, we’re not running at full capacity with those because so much of our time has been spent having arguments with government and others about how we are opposed to local lockdown and we think that it’s the wrong thing."

Oldham is among several northern local authorities which are currently under tighter restrictions compared with the rest of the country, however most of those regions have managed to reduce their Covid-19 infection rate.

Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, revealed the case rates for each part of the region, which showed Oldham's is significantly higher than elsewhere.

Oldham's seven day infection rate per 100,000 is 83.1 - the area with the nearest to that is Manchester, with 47.6.

Despite Oldham clearly being the worst affected in the area, Mr Burnham has written to the health secretary asking for no new restrictions to be placed on the town.

He also wants a "relaxation of the ban on gatherings in Wigan" and for an opening of more businesses in all areas except Oldham.

Mr Burnham recently told the Sunday Mirror that "cases are flattening" in most local authorities there, "with one exception, Oldham".

Currently in Oldham, and many other northern regions, people are advised not to meet with people they do not live with in any setting except public outdoor places, unless a support bubble has been formed.

Greater Manchester is under tighter coronavirus restrictions compared with the rest of the UK. Credit: Peter Byrne/PA

Mr Hancock said the government is "working very closely, day in, day out, with Oldham, which is the area, within Greater Manchester, that's got the biggest challenge, the biggest problem".

He said the government will "do whatever is necessary to make sure that we keep this virus under control".

"If you look at Leicester, where we brought in a local lockdown, a few weeks ago, yesterday we were able to announce that we've lifted most of those measures because the virus is now under control in Leicester."

"These local lockdowns work," he said, adding how Oldham will now receive "extra support" and he hopes that will "bring down the case rate there".

Two days ago a Game of Thrones actor lent his hand to Oldham Council in order to help the town avoid a further lockdown.

James Cosmo, who plays Jeor Mormont in the hit TV series, recorded a video of himself warning "lockdown is coming", which was shared on Twitter by Oldham Council.

In Game of Thrones style, the actor said: "Houses of Oldham, it's your lord commander. Lockdown is coming if you don't act now."

The health secretary said an expansion of the ONS Covid infection survey will "allow us to further narrow down the areas potentially affected by local outbreaks and continue our fight to curb the spread ahead of winter".

Political Reporter Shehab Khan explains the situation in Oldham:

The Infection Survey will be expanded from regularly testing 28,000 people per fortnight in England to 150,000 by October, the health secretary said.

The expanded study will provide extensive, weekly data on the spread of infection, supporting rapid testing and diagnosis of Covid-19 both nationally and in areas of concern.

The ONS will prioritise ramping up of testing in the north west of England.

Letters have been sent out to tens of thousands of homes inviting new participants to take part in the survey.

Mr Hancock said “I urge anyone who is able to take part in this study to do so – you will be playing a vital role in the fight against the virus.

"The data and insight gathered will help inform our national, regional and local responses to the pandemic, allowing this nation to get back to the things we love doing.”