Meeting to decide Greater Manchester's future Covid restrictions ends in no agreement

Greater Manchester Credit: PA

People and businesses in Greater Manchester remain in limbo this afternoon, after a meeting to decide future Covid restrictions in the region ended in no agreement.

The meeting between Greater Manchester’s MPs and Government Health Minister Helen Whateley has been dubbed ‘pointless’ and ‘a shambles’, with one MP saying 'we may as well have been talking to a wall.'

Both Labour and Conservative MPs told Granada Reports the meeting ended in a ‘huge row’, after the Health Minister tried to suggest MPs were divided. Every MP on the call went on to confirm that they don’t want the city region to enter so called ‘Tier 3’ of restrictions.

Conservative MP for Hazel Grove, William Wragg, said ‘the impossible has been achieved’ by uniting politicians at all levels, from both main parties, against the restrictions.

These are the new three tiers of Covid restrictions

‘Tier 3’, also known as ‘very high’ Covid alert level, has so far only been applied in Liverpool City Region. It would involve the closure of pubs and bars as a minimum, except where they sell what the Government calls a ‘substantial meal’.

When the Tier system was announced on Monday, Greater Manchester was placed in ‘Tier 2’, after some wrangling with local leaders. The regulations only came into effect yesterday, but the Government is continuing to push for Greater Manchester to enter Tier 3 because of the infection rate in the area. 

Labour MP for Wythenshawe and Sale East, Mike Kane, said the Health Secretary had confirmed Tier 2 for four weeks on Monday, and should stick by that.

The Health Secretary Matt Hancock responded: ‘In Greater Manchester the number of cases of Coronavirus continues to rise, the number of cases among the over-60s continues to rise and the number of hospitalisations continues to rise. I hope that we can work together to find a solution because it is critical that we get this virus under control. We cannot see cases inexorably rising because we know the consequence that brings’ 

These are the latest Covid infection rates released by Greater Manchester Combined Authority yesterday.

These are the latest Covid infection rates released by Greater Manchester Combined Authority yesterday. Credit: GMCA

But the Metro Mayor Andy Burnham, along with council leaders and MPs from both parties are ‘united’ in their opposition to extra restrictions, claiming that Tier 3 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.

Statement from Greater Manchester leaders

While Greater Manchester is united in its opposition to Tier 3, there are different views as to what should happen next. Some Conservative MPs believe there should be fewer, or more targeted, restrictions - particularly in Bolton, where hospitality was forced to shut last month.

The majority of Labour’s local leaders and MPs argue in favour of a national ‘circuit break’, after the Chief Medical Officer said he is ‘not confident’ that the minimum level of Tier 3 closures would be sufficient to tackle the virus. 

There have also been calls for extra support to enforce the existing Tier 2 restrictions, and for local control of Test and Trace, which it is believed would improve the success rate of contacting people who need to be told to self-isolate.

Adding to the tension is anger at the way reports have appeared online stating decisions have already been made - the Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed in the House of Commons he has started a leak inquiry into some of the information that has appeared in the media in recent days.

Discussions are also ongoing in Lancashire, where council leaders believe the county will end up in Tier 3, but are also seeking to maximise the amount of financial support available.