Boris Johnson has urged leaders in Greater Manchester to “reconsider and engage constructively” over Tier 3 restrictions but said he will intervene if an agreement cannot be reached.
The Prime Minister said the situation in Greater Manchester was “grave” as he pressured Mayor Andy Burnham to agree to new rules, adding that time was “of the essence”.
But the region’s political leaders continued to resist the pressure and suggested No 10 were delaying discussions.
In a Downing Street press conference, Mr Johnson said local measures were necessary as he sought to avoid another national lockdown but added he “cannot rule anything out”.
Regarding the Greater Manchester area, he said: “On recent trends, in just over two weeks there will be more Covid patients in intensive care than at the peak of the first wave so I urge the mayor to reconsider and engage constructively.
“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.
“Of course, if agreement cannot be reached, I will need to intervene in order to protect Manchester’s hospitals and save the lives of Manchester’s residents.
“But our efforts would be so much more effective if we work together.”
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 a Tier 3 lockdown.
“At our last meeting with Downing Street officials yesterday morning, we were told they would arrange a further meeting later in the day to provide a response to our requests,” they said in a statement.
“That did not happen and, despite being on standby all day today, we are still waiting for it to be arranged. We can assure the Prime Minister that we are ready to meet at any time to try to agree a way forward.
“We do not believe that the current proposals provide adequate support and that is why we await further talks.”
It comes after the Government announced that a further 1.5 million people in England will be placed under the toughest coronavirus restrictions this weekend as Lancashire moves into Tier 3.
The Government said the move was 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 from Saturday, 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.
But gyms will remain open despite them being closed in the Liverpool City Region – the only other area of England under Tier 3 restrictions.
Speaking directly to the public, Mr Johnson said urgent action was needed in Greater Manchester, with cases doubling in the last nine days.
“Some have argued that we should introduce a national lockdown instead of targeted local action, and I disagree,” he said.
“Closing businesses in Cornwall, where transmission is low, will not cut transmission in Manchester.
“So while I can’t rule anything out, if at all possible I want to avoid another national lockdown, with the damaging health, economic and social effects it would have.”
Mr Johnson said he did not want to go back to the “bad old days” when schools were closed and people were forced to stay at home.
He added: “The amount by which we need to reduce the R is not as big as it was right back in the beginning of the spread of this disease.
“If we all work together on the measures we have outlined, we can definitely do it.”
However, he said the Government stood ready to impose more draconian measures “if necessary”.
Earlier, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which advises 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.
“There is no clear evidence that the epidemic’s trajectory has changed in the past month,” the group said in a statement.
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.
The new restrictions for Lancashire, which will be reviewed every fortnight, cover all parts of the county, including: Burnley, Blackburn with Darwen, Blackpool, Chorley, Fylde, Hyndburn, Lancaster, Pendle, Preston, Ribble Valley, Rossendale, South Ribble, West Lancashire and Wyre.
The coronavirus rate across the whole of Lancashire is 345.1 cases per 100,000, up from 241.2 in the previous week.
The Labour leader of South Ribble Borough Council in Lancashire, Paul Foster, said local leaders were “blackmailed and forced” by the Government to agree to the terms of the new restrictions, although an extra £30 million of funding was secured.
The Labour leader of Blackpool Council, Lynn Williams, said: “This is not what I wanted for Blackpool. We had no option but to ultimately agree this. Had we not done so, we would have been placed in Tier 3 with no money and no support measures.”
Mohammed Iqbal, Labour leader of Pendle Borough Council, said he did not think closing pubs and bars is the “right approach to bring down the level of Covid-19” in the borough.
– Some 15,650 lab-confirmed coronavirus cases were recorded in the UK on Friday, alongside 136 deaths.
– The University of Cambridge biostatistics unit, which feeds into Sage, said 47,000 Covid-19 infections are occurring daily across England, with deaths expected to hit 240 to 690 per day by October 26.
– The Office for National Statistics estimated that there were an average of 27,900 new cases per day of Covid-19 in private households in England between October 2 and 8, up from 17,200 for September 25 to October 1.
– First Minister Mark Drakeford said the Welsh Government will be meeting over the weekend to discuss a circuit-breaker lockdown and announce any decisions on Monday.
– Northern Ireland will enter the toughest controls in the UK so far, with pubs and restaurants to close for four weeks as of Friday evening while schools face a two-week shutdown.
Enjoy the convenience of having The Sunday Post delivered as a digital ePaper straight to your smartphone, tablet or computer.
Subscribe for only £5.49 a month and enjoy all the benefits of the printed paper as a digital replica.Subscribe