Confusion over Manchester lockdown talks as half of England under heightened coronavirus restrictions

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Shehab Khan

Andy Burnham has denied Number 10's suggestion that talks had been arranged to resolve the row over plans to move Manchester to higher Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions.

Downing Street said a call between the two sides had been scheduled for Sunday morning, as both sides come under pressure to come to an agreement.

But the office of Mr Burnham, who is resisting the highest level of controls without more financial support for workers and businesses, flatly denied a call had been scheduled.

The Manchester mayor said no meetings had taken place since Thursday morning and urged in a joint statement with council leaders that “we are ready to meet at any time”.

But Downing Street on Saturday claimed a call had been scheduled for the following morning after a message was left with Mr Burnham.

But a spokesman for the mayor said: “Nothing has yet been arranged.”

A Downing Street source responded: “No 10 reached out this morning to try and arrange a meeting with the Mayor of Manchester.

“We will continue to try and reach an agreement on these difficult, yet necessary, measures to protect the NHS and the people of Manchester.”

Greater Manchester continued to resist the highest controls as the Mr Burnham and other political leaders in the region fight to secure more financial support for workers and businesses.

Andy Burnham said the city will 'stand firm' against being placed under the 'very high' Covid alert level. Credit: PA

Shadow education secretary Kate Green earlier called for an end to the “blame game” and for discussions to resume to get the region an adequate support package.

The Labour MP for Stretford and Urmston told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “That has not been offered by the Government.

“There hasn’t even been discussions over the past 24 hours between the Government and Greater Manchester’s leaders.

“We have to have our local leaders around the table with the Prime Minister or with his representatives to thrash out a deal today.”

More than half of England is living with heightened coronavirus restrictions after the severest measures came into force in Lancashire and Londoners were banned from meeting indoors.

Covid tiers: What are the differences between each alert level?

  • Medium (Tier 1) - Rule of six applies indoors and outdoors. Pubs and restaurants close at 10pm.

  • High (Tier 2) - Households must not mix indoors in any setting including pubs and restaurants. Rule of six applies outdoors

  • Very high (Tier 3) - Households must not mix indoors, or in private gardens. Rule of six applies in outdoor spaces including parks. Pubs and bars which don't serve meals will be closed

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Geraint Vincent

Boris Johnson is under renewed pressure to impose a short national lockdown known as a circuit-breaker to slow Covid-19’s resurgence.

Labour joined the Prime Minister, who has warned he could impose restrictions without local agreement, in warning that the situation in Greater Manchester is “grave”.

Jake Berry, the Conservative MP for Rossendale and Darwen, called for evidence to show the measures work, echoing concerns raised in Manchester.

“I think that spoonful of scepticism is because we’ve been in very similar measures since August and no one has really demonstrated to us the way out or how these measures are working,” he told BBC Breakfast.

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt called for an end to the “public war of words” between local and national leaders, though he said there are “some justifications” for Mr Burnham’s arguments.

But the senior Conservative MP also indicated his support for the circuit-breaker lockdown suggested by Labour and the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).

He said he had “sympathy” for Government adviser Sir John Bell’s view that the national measure might be needed, potentially even including a two-week closure of schools in England.

Sir John, the regius professor of medicine at the University of Oxford, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I can see very little way of getting on top of this without some kind of a circuit-breaker because the numbers are actually pretty eye-watering in some bits of the country and I think it’s going to be very hard to get on top of this just biting around the edges.

“If in the end we have to take kids out for two weeks, calm it all down, and then start ideally embedded in a much more rigorous testing regime then that’s maybe what we may have to do.”

The Prime Minister has been resisting calls to implement the measure over the October half term as he favours local measures, but said on Friday that he “can’t rule anything out”.

The new measures placed more than 28 million people in England into the top two tiers of restrictions.

Pubs in Lancashire that cannot function as restaurants were closed on Saturday, as it joined the Liverpool region in having Tier 3 restrictions.

People in London, Essex, York, Elmbridge, Barrow-in-Furness, North East Derbyshire, Erewash and Chesterfield can no longer mix inside with those from other households, including in pubs and restaurants.

Boris Johnson has warned the government will intervene if an agreement over Tier 3 restrictions for Manchester cannot be reached. Credit: PA

Boris Johnson warned Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham on Friday he would impose Tier 3 measures if they could not reach an agreement as he warned of a “grave” situation.

“I cannot stress enough: time is of the essence. Each day that passes before action is taken means more people will go to hospital, more people will end up in intensive care and tragically more people will die,” the Prime Minister told Downing Street press conference.

Mr Burnham and council leaders across Greater Manchester responded by insisting they have done “everything within our power to protect the health of our residents”, and said people and firms need greater financial support before accepting the lockdown.

They also suggested in a joint statement that Downing Street had delayed discussions, adding: “We can assure the Prime Minister that we are ready to meet at any time to try to agree a way forward.”

The row continued as people in Tier 2 or 3 areas in England, as well as the central belt of Scotland and the whole of Northern Ireland, were banned from entering Wales from 6pm on Friday.

And pubs, restaurants and cafes across Northern Ireland had to close their doors to sit-in customers.

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

In Lancashire, a further 1.5 million people entered Tier 3 as the Government said the move was necessary to stem the “unrelenting rise” in Covid-19 cases in the North West county.

Pubs and bars across Lancashire will close unless they serve food and alcohol as part of a sit-down meal, while stricter restrictions on socialising will also come into force.

People will not be able to mix with others in any indoor setting or private garden, as well as in most outdoor hospitality venues.

Casinos, bingo halls, bookmakers, betting shops, soft play areas and adult gaming centres will be forced to shut, while car boot sales will also be banned.

Staff at the Richmond pub in Liverpool bring in tables and chairs, as new coronavirus virus are imposed Credit: Peter Byrne/PA

But gyms will remain open despite them being closed in the Liverpool City Region – the only other area under Tier 3 restrictions.

Labour’s council leaders in Lancashire said they had been forced to accept the measures, with South Ribble’s Paul Foster saying they were “blackmailed” and Blackpool’s Lynn Williams adding they had “no option” to agree, as they secured an extra £30 million of funding.

Earlier, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which advises the Government, said the reproduction number, or R value, of coronavirus transmission for the whole of the UK had nudged up to between 1.3 and 1.5.

Sage said there had been no change to the course of the pandemic in the last month, suggesting no effect from measures such as the rule of six.

However, at the Downing Street press conference, England’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said the R was not growing as fast as it would be without the measures people were following.

Nevertheless, he said he agreed with England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty that the “baseline” Tier 3 measures on their own would not be enough to get the number of infections down.