The government has pulled another U-turn after local lockdown easing in some northern areas was halted following a spike in cases.
Bolton and Trafford had their coronavirus restrictions relaxed today, in a move that mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham described as “completely illogical” in light of an uptick in cases.
Health secretary Matt Hancock has now confirmed the restrictions will in fact remain, stating: “Following a significant change in the level of infection rates over the last few days, a decision has been taken that Bolton and Trafford will now remain under existing restrictions."
Yet another govt U-turn mid-#PMQs.— Paul Waugh (@paulwaugh) September 2, 2020
New @MattHancock statement
“Following a significant change in the level of infection rates over the last few days, a decision has been taken that Bolton and Trafford will now remain under existing restrictions."
Big victory for @AndyBurnhamGM
Burnham this morning urged residents to ignore the government’s lifting of local lockdown measures, saying there was “no logic” to the government’s new lockdown rules.
He said that the lockdown easing made for a “completely unsustainable position” – and urged residents to continue avoiding having social gatherings at their homes.
Despite what I and local press understood, Bolton is being kept in local lockdown. I'm disappointed at how this important decision has been communicated because of the impact this will have on people's lives.— Chris Green (@CGreenUK) September 2, 2020
It's not that they won't come out of restrictions, they did, for *12 hours* while the government ignored the overwhelming evidence, and local objections to the move— Jim McMahon MP (@JimfromOldham) September 2, 2020
The handling of this crisis has been woeful, risking lives, harming the economy and causing constant confusion https://t.co/dcskOHHgE0
Bolton West MP Chris Green said he was “disappointed” at how the decision was communicated.
He tweeted: “Despite what I and local press understood, Bolton is being kept in local lockdown. I'm disappointed at how this important decision has been communicated because of the impact this will have on people's lives.”
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Burnham said: “We find ourselves at a completely unsustainable position this morning – that’s the politest way I can put it.
“Overnight, we’ve had restrictions released in two boroughs where we’ve got a rising number of cases – in one case, in the red zone. And neighbouring boroughs are still under restrictions but with much lower numbers of cases.
“These restrictions were always hard to explain to the public, but they are completely illogical now.”
Burnham called on the government to introduce “targeted interventions” to form the start of an exit strategy out of the local lockdowns.
The rate of new COVID-19 cases in Bolton has jumped from 18.4 per 100,000 people in the seven days to 22 August to 59.1 in the seven days to 29 August, with 170 new cases. The rate in Trafford has risen from 19.4 to 35.4, with 84 new cases.
Analysis showed that new cases in Bolton were spread across the borough and not limited to a single area, community, or place of work, said the town’s council.
Infections between different households appear to be the main cause of the spike with people aged 18-49 representing the overwhelming majority of new cases.
‘Chaos and confusion’
Council leaders in Trafford had recommended that restrictions be maintained to wait for more evidence of a sustained downward trend in positive cases but were overruled by the government.
Labour council leader Andrew Western has written to health secretary Matt Hancock to “urgently request clarity” on the government’s position on Trafford.
In his letter, Western said: “In short, this decision has caused chaos and confusion that not only impacts potentially on the health of my residents but on the likelihood of compliance in neighbouring boroughs that now have a lower infection rate than Trafford.
“The proposed arrangements now make little sense.
“The system has been undermined by the government’s decision-making processes.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are working closely with leaders and local authorities across Greater Manchester and Lancashire in response to the changing situation and we keep all local restrictions under constant consideration.”