Row over Tier 3 Covid rule 'not just about Greater Manchester', says mayor Andy Burnham

Video report by ITV News Correspondent Geraint Vincent

Greater Manchester's mayor is calling for more support for the region's stance against stricter Covid-19 measures, saying it is "likely" the whole of the country will be facing Tier 3 rules this winter.

“This is more than a Greater Manchester issue, this is more than a north of England issue, this is everyone’s issue," Andy Burnham told ITV News.

Speaking after a meeting with the prime minister's chief strategic adviser Sir Edward Lister, Mr Burnham said: "This is not about a big cheque for Greater Manchester, this is about the poorest people in our communities.”

Mr Burnham and cross-party local leaders from the region are opposing Tier 3 restrictions without greater financial support for workers and businesses.

The Labour mayor told ITV News that those on low wages, such as pub staff and taxi drivers, will be hit hardest by the curbs on the hospitality sector that Tier 3 would entail.

Mr Burnham is calling for a "fully fair financial package" - a return to the amounts paid out under the furlough scheme when it covered 80% of workers’ wages if they could not do their jobs.

He added it was “everywhere’s concern”, not just Greater Manchester's, because all areas could end up in Tier 3 measures with the lower support package of a 66% subsidy for those whose firms are forced to shut.

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Mr Burnham is also calling for a improved compensation scheme for businesses directly or indirectly impacted.Earlier, Mr Burnham said he would consider a legal challenge because asking people to live on two-thirds of their wages is "not fair".

The different tiers only apply to England as health measures are devolved. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own sets of coronavirus measures.

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

Financial support is required, Mr Burnham told ITV News because "health is about more than controlling the virus.

"If we don’t help people then we’re going to have a mental health crisis on top of the virus.

"People are worrying about their homes, their jobs, their kids, their businesses, those are the people we’re standing up for… this is what politics should be about.

"Representation, giving people a voice.”

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As well as calling for more support for businesses, Mr Burnham along with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, is instead calling for a short national lockdown, arguing it would be fairer and would get his constituents’ greater support.

He said he had listened to the advice of England's chief medical officer and chief scientific advisor, both of who have expressed doubts that Tier 3 measures will be enough to stop Covid cases rising.

Instead Mr Burnham said he believes a short "circuit-breaker" lockdown, with the intention of bringing virus cases back under control, would "be better than a winter stuck in Tier 3" and would have better economic consequences.

He said the "only certain" way to bring Covid cases down was through "national action" rather than regional approaches.

However, he said he was "not necessarily calling for that now".

It is thought a short, 16-day lockdown beginning on Friday, will be introduced in Wales on Monday.

Susan Michie, a behavioural scientist whose work feeds in to Sage, told ITV News the government "needs to be listening" to Andy Burnham and the other mayors.

"In order for any national pandemic strategy to be successful, people need to be supported when they’re being asked to lose income, lose their livelihoods, possibly lose their futures - and this needs to be done on a national level," she said.

"What’s happening at the moment are those most deprived parts of the country are being asked to give up the most without adequate support. This isn’t a tenable strategy.

"And what that's going to do is be divisive, it’s going to divide the country at a time when we need to all pull together, when we need to develop a collective solidarity.

"So I think the government needs to be listening to Andy Burnham and the other mayors who say that in order for their communities to adhere to these restrictions they need more support."

Speaking earlier on Sunday, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove accused Mr Burnham of "posturing" and called for action "to save people's lives".

The Labour mayor branded Mr Gove's comments "disappointing".

"How about respond to the substance of what I’m saying?" Mr Burnham asked.

The mayor added it would be a "mistake" for the government to impose the tougher Covid measures on Greater Manchester regardless.

Mr Burnham has written to prime minister and party leaders in Westminster to ask them to intervene.

Speaking earlier on Sunday, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said the "blanket restrictions across the country" that Labour are calling for does not "merit" the spread and nature of the disease... at the moment".

Mr Burnham also accused the Prime Minister of having exaggerated the severity of the coronavirus situation in the region during a Downing Street press conference on Friday.

Currently, Tier 3 restrictions are only in place in Merseyside. Credit: PA Graphic