The region of Greater Manchester in northern England remained at war with the central government on Tuesday as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson stepped in to forcibly place it within Tier 3 of the strictest COVID-19 lockdown restrictions from later this week.
After talks failed over a substantial financial package to support the region’s complete temporary shutdown as part of efforts to control the spread of coronavirus, Johnson declared in a briefing from Downing Street that he bitterly regrets the move but was left with no choice as Manchester is among the areas of the country bearing the brunt of the second wave of the virus.
"No one wants to be putting these things into effect, but that’s why we’re also enacting a comprehensive package of support," he said, as he confirmed that pubs, bars and most restaurants will be among the businesses in Greater Manchester to shut shop from midnight on Thursday after Parliament clears the move.
"Over the last 10 days, we’ve tried to get an approach with local leaders in Greater Manchester. Unfortunately agreement wasn’t reached. I do regret this as it would have been better, and we would have a better chance of defeating the virus if we work together," he said.
Johnson said the region will get an additional 22 million pounds over and above the Job Support Scheme and Universal Credit, which will top up incomes to 80 per cent of normal levels. Earlier, Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said negotiations to reach an agreement had broken down after government ministers "walked away” from the talks after refusing to offer the 65 million pounds package called for. In an emotionally charged briefing of his own, he told reporters that tighter measures "would be certain to increase levels of poverty, homelessness and hardship” for the region.
"At no point today were we offered enough to protect the poorest people in our communities,” he said. The former Opposition Labour Party MP added he was still willing to do a deal with the government "but it cannot be on the terms the government has offered today”.
Meanwhile, his message for the public was to follow the government-enforced guidance, which involves a complete business shutdown and ban on mixing of different households.
Addressing the people of Greater Manchester, Burnham said: "Please, everybody, observe the law at all times and follow the public health advice. Above all else, please look out for each other, as I know you will.”
The long-drawn clashes over this issue came as the UK recorded a further 21,330 coronavirus cases and a further 241 deaths within 28 days of a positive test on Tuesday, taking the total death toll closer to 44,000.
The tier-system of medium, high and very high Covid alert levels came into effect across England last week, with different parts of England under varying degrees of movement and gathering restrictions. While Northern Ireland is already under strict measures with a circuit breaker lockdown for four weeks starting last Friday, Wales went into its firebreak lockdown for two weeks this week and Scotland continues to draw up plans for a three-tier framework of restrictions, similar to England’s.