Coronavirus: Socialising ban for parts of North West England

  • Video report by ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan

People in Oldham, Blackburn and parts of Pendle will be told not to socialise with anyone from outside their household from midnight on Saturday to slow the spread of coronavirus.

While preventing businesses from closing, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the measures mean social activities indoors and outdoors can only be shared by people who live in the same home.

Residents will also be told to avoid using public transport except for essential travel.

The DHSC also said measures will be relaxed in Wigan, Rossendale and Darwen, while Birmingham is added to a watch list as an “area of enhanced support” and Northampton becomes an “area of intervention”.Oldham will not go into a full local lockdown, the town’s council leader has said.

Councillor Sean Fielding said that some restrictions would be introduced however.

It follows speculation this week that the town could have followed Leicester in being locked down.

Mr Fielding tweeted: “We have reached agreement with the Government that Oldham will not go into full local economic lockdown.

“Some additional restrictions will be introduced, however.”

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham told ITV News that Westminster and local government had come to a "sensible agreement" over the measures and he was "happy to agree" with London. "Of course, if you impose a lockdown you damage people's health in a different way. You create mental health pressures that are very difficult for people, so it's always a balance," he said. "We are wanting to obviously ensure that people can still go to work, that businesses don't have to close. On the other hand the government is wanting to stop the spread of the virus. What we've done is come to a sensible agreement where we're balancing all of those things."

Pubs, restaurants, workplaces and childcare facilities will all be allowed to remain open in the impact areas.

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “To prevent a second peak and keep Covid-19 under control, we need robust, targeted intervention where we see a spike in cases.

"The only way we can keep on top of this deadly virus is through decisive action led by the people who know their areas best, wherever possible through consensus with a local area.

 "Working with local leaders we agreed further action Oldham, Pendle and Blackburn. It is vital that everyone in these areas follow the advice of their councils, and abide by their local rules carefully.

 "Our approach is to make the action we take as targeted as possible, with the maximum possible local consensus. To do that we are introducing a new process to increase engagement between local leaders, both councils and MPs, with the aim of taking as targeted action as possible.

Matt Hancock sad employees should regularly test their staff. Credit: PA

"This will allow local councils to focus resources onto the wards which need more targeted intervention in order to drive infection rates down, and gives local people a stronger voice at the table.

“Remember - if you get any symptoms you can get a free test, and you must isolate if NHS Test and Trace tells you to.”

Mr Burnham called on better support for people who were forced to self isolate.

"There is one gap in our defences and this is the support people need to self-isolate. There are many people in communities like Oldham who can't just take 14 days off week because they won't get paid if they do that, or some might even lose their job," he told ITV news.

Restrictions in Wigan, Rossendale and Darwen have been lifted, the department said, bringing them into line with the rest of England.

Figures published on Friday show there were 71.7 new cases per 100,000 people in Oldham in the seven days to August 18, down from 112.2 over the previous seven days.

Pendle, which is in second place behind Oldham, has a rate of 67.3, down from 108.6, while Blackburn with Darwen is in third place. There, the rate has fallen from 88.2 to 56.1.

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

A spokesman for the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) welcomed a local lockdown in Oldham had been avoided and that restrictions in Wigan had been lifted.

He said officials had worked “to ensure areas with consistently low infection rates were taken out of the restrictions, so the decision on Wigan’s restrictions being lifted is a welcome one”.

He added: “We have all been concerned about the situation in Oldham and this is why we have sought to work in partnership both with the local council and the Government to agree the most suitable and effective measures, as set out by Oldham Council.

“Increased measures to restrict the mixing of households are a much more sensible approach than local lockdown. We are pleased that the Health Secretary has listened to what leaders said in their letter to him yesterday.”

Bosses at Greencore have taken the decision to temporarily cease production. Credit: ITV News Anglia

In Northampton there has been a spike in cases which is almost solely linked to the workforce at the Greencore Factory where nearly 300 workers have tested positive.

The factory will close voluntarily from Friday, with employees and their direct households will be required to isolate at home for two weeks.

In response to the adding of Birmingham to a watch list, the new West Midlands Mayor Andy Street said “some people have not been strict enough” with coronavirus measures and the DHSC said he would be meeting Health Secretary Matt Hancock and local council leaders on Friday to discuss “urgent next steps”.

In a statement posted on Twitter he added: “People across the region have made an enormous sacrifice since the start of lockdown to keep the virus at bay, but the virus is now returning and recent efforts to counter that have been insufficient.

“It is evident that some people have not been strict enough when it comes to keeping up the basics of social distancing, hand washing and wearing a face covering, nor following the guidelines on avoiding mass gatherings.

“This has to change immediately and I would ask every single citizen, both across Birmingham and the West Midlands, to redouble their efforts.”