UK virus plan in disarray as regional leaders oppose restrictions
Manchester leaders refuse prime minister’s pandemic curbs unless he provides more financial support
London — Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s coronavirus strategy descended into disarray three days after it was announced, as local leaders rejected his regional approach and UK government scientists pushed for an emergency national lockdown to slow the rate of infections.
London will face tighter restrictions from Saturday, with a ban on households mixing indoors, but political leaders in Manchester, northern England, are now in open revolt, refusing Johnson’s request to move to the highest level of pandemic curbs unless he provides more generous financial support.
“It is wrong to place some of the poorest parts of England in a punishing lockdown without proper support for the people and businesses affected,” Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham told reporters. “Let’s make it a one nation policy, not make the north the sacrificial lamb.”
Amid a surge in Covid-19 cases — with 138 more deaths reported on Thursday — the prime minister is holding out against a second full national lockdown, instead announcing a three-tier system of restrictions targeted on virus hot spots.
Chain of transmission
But the opposition Labour Party has thrown its weight behind a call for a short so-called circuit breaker lockdown that was recommended by the government’s own scientific advisers last month. The scientists are still pushing for one to break the chain of transmission, but even they believe it may be too late for it to bring virus cases back down to the lower levels seen in August.
Speaking privately, senior officials warned a short, sharp, closure may end up lasting much longer, which ministers fear would further cripple an economy already battered by the pandemic.
For now, Johnson is persisting with his regional approach to stemming the spread of the virus. On Thursday, health secretary Matt Hancock announced new rules in London will take effect from 1am on Saturday. As well as the ban on household mixing, people will be discouraged from using public transport.
The tougher restrictions had been pushed for by London mayor Sadiq Khan, who told the city’s assembly on Thursday “we have a difficult winter ahead.” But in Manchester, local leaders rejected plans to put the northwestern city region into the highest tier of virus restrictions without more compensation for businesses forced to close, and their workers.
In practice, Johnson can impose new measures without the agreement of local leaders, but he is trying to take them with him.
Burnham, a member of the opposition Labour Party, was joined in speaking out against the proposed restrictions by influential Tory MP Graham Brady, whose district is in the affected area.
“It would be a very foolish thing to do,” Brady told Times Radio on Thursday. “If you try to do these things without consent, people lose patience very quickly.”
Another Conservative MP from the region, William Wragg, complained in the House of Commons about a meeting with ministers earlier in the day. “I may as well have talked to a wall, quite frankly,” he said.
Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments?
Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.
Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.