BORIS JOHNSON has been accused of using northerners as ‘sacrificial lambs’ in the battle against coronavirus.
The damning indictment was made by Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester, as he rejected the prime minister’s plans to place the city and its neighbours in tier three lockdown alongside Liverpool.
The former Labour minister said Downing Street was trying to force much of northern England into the toughest coronavirus restrictions ‘on the cheap’. He attacked the government for offering laid-off workers just 66 per cent of their pay rather than the 80 per cent during the furlough scheme that expires this month, saying it will ‘ruin thousands of people’s lives’.
And he drew England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam into the argument, saying the professor told him the only way to bring the virus under control was a nationwide lockdown. He said: ‘Greater Manchester, the Liverpool City region and Lancashire are being set up as the canaries in the coalmine for an experimental regional lockdown strategy as an attempt to prevent the expense of what is truly needed.’
Mr Burnham’s comments came as health secretary Matt Hancock moved London, and several other regions, from tier one ‘medium risk’ to tier two ‘high risk’. It means that, from tomorrow, members of different households will no longer be able to mix indoors but pubs remain open. The other areas moved into tier two include Essex, Elmbridge in Surrey, Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria, York, North East Derbyshire and Chesterfield.
A further 18,980 new Covid-19 cases were recorded in the UK yesterday, while the official death toll rose by 138 to 43,293.
The World Health Organization urged Europe’s leaders to improve help and support for people affected by the coronavirus crisis, including those feeling ‘pandemic fatigue’. Dr Hans Kluge, head of WHO Europe, said: ‘These measures are meant to keep us all ahead of the curve and to flatten its course. It is, therefore, up to us to accept them while they are still relatively easy to follow.’
In an emotional address on the steps of Manchester’s Central Library, Mr Burnham said: ‘The very least they (No.10) should be offering the people of Greater Manchester who will be affected by these closures is a full and fair 80 per cent furlough for all affected workers, 80 per cent income support for people who are self-employed and a proper compensation scheme for businesses. So far, they have not been prepared to offer that.’
He said a nationwide ‘circuit-breaker’ would be preferable to targeting northern England in an ‘unfunded, risky regional lockdown strategy’. To applause, Mr Burnham added: ‘We have to protect the health of the nation but let’s do it as one nation and not make the north of England the sacrificial lamb for an ill-thought-through Downing Street policy which doesn’t make sense in the real world. People are fed up of being treated in this way. The north is fed up of being pushed around — we are not going to be pushed around any more.’
He said the government’s three-tier system was not only ‘flawed and unfair’ but also came with far too little financial support, adding: ‘If they try and do it on the cheap, they will damage people’s lives in a different way.
‘They say there’s no money left — I don’t believe that, when I look at the money spent on consultants, when I look at the money found for other things this year.’
Manchester city council’s leader Sir Richard Leese said: ‘What we were told last night by the deputy chief medical officer was that what we’re asked to do is accept a proposal which the government’s own advisers say won’t work.
‘Why would we accept a proposal that their own advisers say won’t work?’
But Mr Hancock told the Commons the latest new measures, which mean more than half the population will be under tier two or above from tomorrow, were essential. He said: ‘We must take firm and balanced decisions to keep this virus under control. This is the only way to protect lives and livelihoods — and we must act now.
‘Delayed action means more deaths from Covid, it means more non-Covid deaths and it means more economic pain later.’
The Liverpool city region is so far the only area currently in tier three. But more talks between leaders of ‘high risk’ areas and the government are expected today. More than 5,000 pubs and almost 8,500 restaurants could be affected in the newly designated tier two regions. They will not qualify for government grants available to businesses ordered to close.
London mayor Sadiq Khan blamed the capital’s move into tier two on the government’s ‘failure’ to put in place an effective system to ‘test, trace and isolate’ cases.
He called for more financial aid, saying: ‘Nobody wants to see more restrictions but this is deemed to be necessary in order to protect Londoners’ lives by myself, London council leaders and by ministers.’
He later told Sky News: ‘This government has a habit of treating mayors and local leaders as adversaries rather than allies.
‘I share Andy Burnham’s concern that unless the government gives our busineses, councils, workers and individuals the financial support they need, the compliance won’t be as high as it should be and businesses could go bust.’
Tier One: Medium risk
Current social distancing measures, the Rule of Six and a 10pm curfew for pubs and bars
Tier Two: High risk
As with tier one but with the following additional measures:
■ People must not meet up with anybody outside their household or support bubble in any indoor setting, whether at home or in a public place
■ No groups of more than six outside, including in a private garden
■ Reduce the number of journeys if possible
CURRENTLY APPLIES TO: Blackburn with Darwen; Blackpool; East Cheshire; Greater Manchester; Lancashire; Leicester; North-East England; Nottinghamshire; Oldham; Part of High Peak; South Yorkshire ;Warrington and Halton; West Cheshire; West Midlands; West Yorkshire
FROM MIDNIGHT TONIGHT: London; Essex; Elmbridge; Barrow-in Furness; York; North East Derbyshire; Erewash; Chesterfield
Tier Three: Very high risk
■ Pubs and bars can only remain open where they operate as if they were a restaurant — which means serving ‘substantial’ meals. They may only serve alcohol as part of such a meal
■ Wedding receptions are not allowed
■ People must not meet up with anybody outside their household or support bubble in any setting
■ The Rule of Six applies in open spaces
■ Non-essential travel should be avoided other than for things like work, education, or caring
■ People should avoid staying overnight in other areas
APPLIES TO: Liverpool City Region