Hannah Miller: Will the north be in lockdown for longer?

Parts of the North West could take two months longer to be ready to come out of lockdown than the rest of the country if Covid 19 continues to spread, Blackburn’s public health director has warned.

Dominic Harrison has written to the Health Secretary and Government health officials, urging them to accelerate the rollout of the vaccine in areas of high transmission. 

The letter says failing to do so risks causing both avoidable deaths and avoidable economic harm, as well as delaying the end of the pandemic.

Speaking to ITV Granada, Professor Harrison said: "Compare the North West and the South West. If you live in the North West you have twice the risk of death from Covid and three times the risk of transmission.

"It doesn’t make sense to roll out the vaccine at the same rate across the North West and the South West, given that data."

Ministers have previously said the risk to individuals is already factored in, with clinically vulnerable people getting the vaccine ahead of others. 

The Department of Health has been contacted about the vaccine rollout in the North West, but have not yet responded.

But Professor Harrison said while he supports the existing priority list drawn up by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, the risk created by place also needs to be factored in. 

Bolton has seen an increase in coronavirus cases in the last week. Credit: PA

The warning comes as both Preston and Bolton record an increase in the number of coronavirus cases - bucking the downwards national trend.  

In the past four weeks, the number of cases has fallen 81% in London, from 993.4/100,000 to 192.2/100,000.

Cases in the North West cases have fallen by 62% over the same period - leaving the region with the third-highest infection rate, behind the East Midlands and West Midlands, which are also falling more slowly than the capital. 

Health officials are worried the fall in cases due to lockdown is now starting to level off, with leaders in Bolton pointing to high numbers of people unable to work from home. 

Earlier this week Cheshire West council released statistics suggesting 30% of transmission is happening in the workplace. 

This week Greater Manchester’s mayor Andy Burnham rejected any return to tiers. Credit: PA

Analysis by Granada Reports Political Correspondent Hannah Miller

So in the face of unequal case rates across the country, what will the Government do? 

Having initially said they would pursue regional tiers in the aftermath of the third lockdown, in recent weeks the Prime Minister has suggested he would prefer to ease restrictions at the same time across the country.

Boris Johnson knows that going back to regional restrictions would lead to another uncomfortable battle with Labour’s metro mayors. But waiting for the whole country to be ready risks the wrath of Conservative backbenchers.

So far ministers remain tight-lipped about their plans, with discussions continuing in the coming days ahead of a promised ‘roadmap’ to be published in the week commencing 22nd February.

But if the Government does want us all to come out of lockdown successfully together, some local areas may need extra attention as the vaccine rollout continues - however counter-intuitive that may be.