The Mayor of Greater Manchester has threatened to take legal action against the Government as the Prime Minister prepares to put the region into the strictest level of local coronavirus lockdown with Lancashire.
Greater Manchester and Lancashire could be put under tier three lockdown – joining Liverpool, which already faces the harshest measures – following a sign off by the Government’s ‘gold command’ taskforce scientists.
Boris Johnson is set to review the proposals today and, if he also agrees, the areas would be plunged into the harshest lockdown in the new three-tier system. Health Secretary Matt Hancock is due to update the House of Commons on the next steps at 11.30am today.
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and the region’s local council leaders threatened legal action if they are put into the ‘fundamentally flawed’ highest level of local restrictions without more financial help.
The Mayor said he would ‘not cave into the pressure’ by agreeing to a local lockdown and said the extreme restrictions would be ‘by imposition, not consent’.
He and other local leaders ‘fear a winter where large parts of the North are trapped in tier three’ without financial support for firms or for those unable to work.
The measures come in spite of Manchester’s Covid-19 infection rate appearing to slow. This week saw 448 cases per 100,000 – compared to 582 per 100,000 the week prior, Manchester Evening News reports.
After learning of the Joint Biosecurity Centre’s ‘Gold Command’ decision, Mr Burnham tweeted: ‘Said I wasn’t going to comment but now feel compelled to do so on the back of this Government briefing. At no point during tonight’s briefing was this news communicated to us. Media told first once again. Our position has not changed.’
Lancashire yesterday reported a further 835 cases in one day. Some 87 of them were in the seaside resort of Blackpool where a rare glimpse inside an NHS hospital this week revealed medics are bracing to re-live their coronavirus frontline roles ‘all over again for an indefinite period of time’ as intensive care wards fill up.
Lancashire county council leader Geoff Driver yesterday said it is ‘inevitable’ his region would enter tier three, telling BBC Breakfast: ‘It’s really a question of when and how, and we’re working with Government trying to put together a package of measures that will mitigate the inevitable impact on that particular sector of the economy.’
Tier three restrictions include a ban on socialising with other households indoors and in private gardens. In other coronavirus developments yesterday:
- Northern Ireland will close its pubs for a month from Friday and shut schools for a fortnight from next week under a circuit-breaker lockdown, First Minister Arlene Foster announced;
- As many as 12 London boroughs have breached the infection threshold of 100 cases per 100,000 people as Sadiq Khan warns Tier 2 restrictions for the capital are ‘inevitable’;
- Health officials in Liverpool expect to see the number of Covid-19 patients in the city’s hospitals surpass the levels of the first peak in the next seven to 10 days;
- Royal Liverpool Hospital has no more beds available in its intensive care unit, according to Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson, and a senior doctor warns 58 of 60 beds are filled;
- Quarantine for travellers returning to the UK from virus hotspots will be slashed to seven days with travellers taking a test a week after landing, the Transport Secretary has said;
- Nicola Sturgeon has urged Scots not to travel to Blackpool saying 180 recent infections north of the border had been linked to the town;
- The UK’s total coronavirus deaths rose to 43,155 yesterday, while the number of cases diagnosed since the outbreak began in March reached 654,644.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street in Westminster yesterday for Prime Minister’s Questions
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham (pictured on Sky News yesterday) and its council leaders threatened legal action
People walk through Manchester city centre yesterday with the region facing the prospect of a tier three lockdown
Yesterday, Mr Burnham and other Manchester leaders backed Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s calls for a nationwide ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown and refused to accept the Prime Minister’s plans for tier three restrictions.
Mr Burnham said in a press conference with mayor of the Liverpool City region Steve Rotheram: ‘My great fear is we’re going to see a position where areas, one by one, are going to have pressure piled upon them to go into tier three, because that’s an easier option for the government.
Sadiq Khan wants more support for London’s firms and authorities
Sadiq Khan has urged the Prime Minister to put a support package in place for London, as he suggested the capital could enter the higher Tier 2 coronavirus restrictions this week.
The Mayor of London sought clarity on provisions made for businesses, support for vulnerable Londoners and test and trace efforts in the capital, including for those self-isolating.
In a letter to Boris Johnson, Mr Khan said that as the rate of infections in London was ‘fast approaching’ 100 cases per 100,000, it was ‘likely’ the capital would move to the next alert level as early as this week.
Moving from ‘medium’ up to ‘high’ would see the nine million people living in the capital banned from mixing with other households indoors, including in pubs and restaurants.
‘It is vital London has the resources to engage, explain, encourage and enforce heightened restriction and support compliance,’ Mr Khan said in the letter. ‘One London borough has done some specific work to estimate the cost of providing that service for six months from November onward and it is £300k over and above the allocation that was recently made to councils for support to compliance.
‘I am aware that these are discussions that have taken place with other areas that have had restrictions in place and London government would expect to have those discussions as well.’
Mr Khan said the ‘unique circumstances’ of the capital must be reflected in the approach and support.
He added: ‘The capital was hit particularly hard during the first wave with many of our communities and particularly the BAME community, suffering disproportionately. In addition, many families live in overcrowded accommodation and face high levels of homelessness and rough sleeping.
‘Our size and density present specific challenges, with the economic case for protecting businesses in the Central Activities Zone overwhelming.’
Among the requests, Mr Khan urged for clarity on what provisions would be made available for businesses, warning that hundreds of thousands of jobs remain at risk in the capital. He said it was ‘critical’ that the Government resolves the funding position of Transport for London (TfL), urging a package for the network.
As well as seeking clarity on support for vulnerable Londoners, the mayor called for an immediate increase to testing capacity, as well as a ‘redoubling’ of efforts to ensure testing for staff and residents.
‘I will continue to urge Londoners to be vigilant, follow the rules and exercise caution,’ he said in the letter. ‘I accept that these new measures will impact on businesses and Londoners, but we have a joint responsibility to work together and do what we can to control this virus and save lives.’
The mayor has previously insisted London should move as a whole into higher restrictions despite variable rates across the capital.
‘It’s cheaper, it puts all the pressure on local leaders without the support. I think a winter where most of the north is trapped in tier three is going to be very serious.’
He said the option backed by Sir Keir – which would involve a country-wide lockdown for between two and three weeks – ‘would be a better and a fairer way of keeping the country together, not accentuating regional divide’.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the Government will pay two thirds of the salaries of people who can’t keep working under tier three lockdown – such as bar staff.
But Mr Burnham said the measures aren’t enough and threatened going down ‘legal routes’.
He told the conference: ‘We won’t accept people having their jobs taken off them, their businesses taken off them without proper compensation and what I mean by that is 80 per cent furlough across the board.
‘We would consider other routes – legal routes – where we could protect our many thousands of residents who are going to be left in severe hardship in the run up to Christmas.
‘We would not just leave them in the lurch, we would try and support them and that would include any legal action we could take on their behalf.
‘We might even consider some joint action in that space because we won’t let people just be sent to the wall.’
The death toll for the remainder of 2020 could be reduced from 19,900 to 12,100 if Britons are ordered to keep indoors and schools are shut for just two weeks from October 24, a Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) paper seen by The Times showed.
The news of a potential new tier three lockdown comes as Britain’s daily Covid-19 cases jumped 40 per cent in a week. Health officials yesterday announced 19,724 more infections and 137 new deaths.
Last Wednesday, 14,162 cases and 70 deaths were recorded, as well as 17,234 cases and a four-month high of 143 fatalities on Tuesday.
For comparison, more than 100,000 Britons were getting infected and at least 1,000 were dying every day during the darkest period of the first wave in March and April.
Mr Johnson yesterday sounded defiant on his local tiers lockdown plan, despite warnings from scientists that it is the ‘worst of all worlds’. Rumours were swirling that the Prime Minister had been seriously considering a ‘circuit breaker’.
But in brutal clashes at Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Johnson dismissed calls from Sir Keir Starmer and Sage for a ‘miserable’ national ‘circuit breaker’. He insisted that his job was to balance the economic and wider interests of the country with the science.
And Welsh ministers faced fury yesterday after unveiling an extraordinary bid to ban people from coronavirus hotspots entering the country. First Minister Mark Drakeford was accused of being obsessed with ‘banning the English’ after he announced the move saying people were ‘anxious and fearful’ about importing infection.
The rolling seven-day average of daily infections — considered a more accurate measure because it takes into account day-to-day fluctuations — is 15,767, having soared from 3,000 this time last month.
And data shows the average number of daily deaths is 91, having steadily increased following a record-low of seven in mid-August.
Only the US, Brazil, India and Mexico, all countries with substantially larger populations, have suffered more fatalities than the UK’s tally of 43,155.
But experts consider this to be an underestimate because it only takes into account patients who have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19.
Graphs from the paper show what effect different circuit breakers would have on deaths, hospitalisations and infections. Yellow represents the most strict form of circuit breaker, while the dotted black line shows what would happen if no measures were in place
A lack of testing at the peak of the pandemic meant many hospital patients and care home residents passed away without being diagnosed.
What is the Joint Biosecurity Centre’s ‘Gold Command’ and what is its role?
The highly-secretive Joint Biosecurity Centre took over the UK’s coronavirus response in July.
The JBC was set up in May at the cost of £9billion.
Little is known about the group – which is headed by Dr Clare Gardiner, a qualified epidemiologist, medical researcher, and cybersecurity director at GCHQ – and it is unclear how much engagement it has with independent scientists.
What is known, however, is that that JBC decides on national alert levels and puts forward actions to help combat any local outbreaks.
The ‘Gold Command’ within the JBC is headed up by Matt Hancock .
It must host meetings every week at minimum which are attended by ministers, senior civil servants, Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty and PHE, Department of Health and NHS Test and Trace officials.
Its job includes ‘briefing ministers on latest national and local epidemiological picture’ and ‘review and evaluate responses in key areas’ according to the gov.uk website.
Earlier this week, the Government was urged to lift the lid on the Joint Biosecurity Centre.
MP and chairman of the science and technology committee Dr Greg Clark slammed it as ‘far too opaque’. and said the British public ‘deserve answers’ from the group – which advises decisions about widely-impactful local lockdowns up and down the country.
Mr Clark told The Daily Telegraph: ‘The transparency of the JBC is simply not good enough at the moment.
‘Its role in the response to the pandemic is far too opaque, and that needs to change.’
Civil servants make up a significant amount of the JBC’s staff, meaning releasing their identities was not suitable, a source said.
A Health Department spokesperson said the JBC does not make any decisions itself and aims to be as open as it can be.
In July, Matt Hancock confirmed Number 10’s scientific advisory panel SAGE was downgraded and the JBC would take over the UK’s coronavirus response.
SAGE took a backseat now that Covid-19 is a ‘semi-permanent’ problem and not an emergency like it was during the darkest days of the crisis back in April, the Health Secretary said.
The JBC’s staff consist of epidemiologists and data analysts but its structure, and whether experts will be paid by the government, have not yet been announced.
It’s boss Dr Gardiner reports to Baroness Dido Harding, the chief of NHS Test and Trace and the entire JBC organisation falls under the control of the Department of Health, which answers to Mr Hancock.
It is currently unclear exactly how the JBC will operate with other bodies like Public Health England.
In fierce clashes across the dispatch box in PMQs Sir Keir pointed out that Mr Johnson had promised in May his approach would be ‘governed entirely by the science’, but SAGE documents revealed they had been calling for a national ‘circuit breaker’ for weeks.
He swiped: ‘Why did the Prime Minister reject that advice and abandon the science?’
But Mr Johnson shot back: ”Since he quotes the SAGE advice I might just remind him that on page one it says that all the interventions considered have associated costs in terms of health and well-being and that policymakers will need to consider announcements and economic impacts and the associated harms alongside this epidemiological assessment.’
The premier went on: ‘He wants to close pubs, he wants to close bars, he wants to close businesses in areas across the country where the incidence is low.’
Mr Johnson accused Sir Keir of ‘opportunism’, and urged him to encourage Labour’s local leaders in the North to sign up to tougher curbs. He said his Tiered strategy was the way to ‘avoid the misery of another national lockdown’.
However, as the blows turned personal, Sir Keir said: ‘I know that for someone who has been an opportunist all his life this is difficult to understand, but having read and considered the Sage advice I have genuinely concluded that a circuit-break is in the national interest.’
As the three-Tier Covid alert level system comes into force across England, the Liverpool City region is currently the only area in the highest bracket.
Relations with the scientific community – and crucially chief advisers Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance – appear to have deteriorated dramatically as divisions are played out in public.
In a brutal Twitter thread overnight, Wellcome Trust director Professor Jeremy Farrar warned that the government risked damaging the economy and should have acted three weeks ago to avoid an even worse March-style lockdown.
‘The latest government plans are an attempt to compromise between health and the economy but may end up damaging both,’ he said.
‘We didn’t use the summer months to get an effective, supportive & trusted track-trace-isolate system in place as other countries managed to do. That would have helped get R right down. Instead we headed into autumn with R too high. We’re sadly seeing the consequences of this now.
‘New measures shift responsibility to local authorities, but as the CMO made crystal clear, at base they will have little to no effect on transmission. This is the worst of all worlds, the economic damage of more restrictions without the gain of a reduction in transmission.’
Professor Farrar said the best time to act would have been three weeks ago, but an immediate ‘circuit breaker’ would help. ‘If we wait, the government will inevitably have to change course again in 4-6 weeks, but the longer they leave it the harsher restrictions will have to get and the longer they will need to be imposed,’ he warned.
The academics behind the startling study which found half-term coronavirus lockdown could save up to 100,000 lives by New Year have also admitted Britain may have ‘missed the boat’ on a circuit breaker.
Professor Matt Keeling – from the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling – revealed yesterday he wished he ‘hadn’t put these numbers in the study’ because the extreme scenario was only included ‘for illustration’.
Professor Keeling told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on Wednesday: ‘I really, really wish I hadn’t put these numbers in the paper because they were there for illustration.
By September 15 the UK seven-day rolling average of cases was tracking at more than double that of Germany
Boris Johnson yesterday sounded defiant on his local ‘Tiers’ lockdown plan, despite warnings from scientists that it is the ‘worst of all worlds’. Rumours were swirling that the Prime Minister is seriously considering a ‘circuit breaker’
‘We looked at a range of different scenarios from a relatively low growth rate going forward where we might reduce deaths by a third between now and new year to some extreme scenarios, which I think are the ones that have been quoted in the papers, which really were ‘what happens if we don’t do anything?’ between now and the new year.’
Wales says it will BAN people from Covid hotspots in England
Welsh ministers faced fury yesterday after unveiling an extraordinary bid to ban people from coronavirus hotspots entering the country.
First Minister Mark Drakeford was accused of being obsessed with ‘banning the English’ after he announced the move saying people were ‘anxious and fearful’ about importing infection.
He put the blame for the action squarely on Boris Johnson, saying the PM had ignored two letters requesting he introduce travel restrictions in areas of England with high case rates.
But there were immediate questions about how the measure, due to come in from 6pm on Friday, can possibly be enforced.
Police commissioners in Wales suggested they could set up road blocks and follow up tips from the public.
But they have admitted there is not the capacity to ‘line the border with patrol cars’.
Tory member of the Welsh Parliament Andrew RT Davies said: ‘The Welsh Government’s unhealthy obsession with travel restrictions and ”banning the English” flies in the face of all the evidence.
‘Last month’s SAGE advice said such a move would have a ”low impact” and would be ‘complicated’ to enforce.’
The drastic restrictions come after Nicola Sturgeon suggested she is also considering a ban, and warned Scots not to travel to Blackpool because 180 cases north of the border had been linked to the seaside town recently.
In Wales, there are 17 areas under higher local lockdowns, which include rules against entering or leaving the area without a reasonable excuse such as work or education.
However, currently people living in Covid-19 hotspots elsewhere in the UK are free to enter areas of Wales not under restrictions where levels of the virus are low.
The finding was based on the assumption that all lockdown measures currently in place would be lifted, leaving the virus unchecked from now until January. Professor Keeling noted in the paper that this worst-case scenario would never be allowed to play out without the government intervening.
However, the paper’s findings have already been used as ammunition by those calling for the mini-lockdown, including Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.
As ministers traded blows over the restrictions, MailOnline exclusively revealed that Public Health England had sought to pour cold water on official concerns by informing politicians the UK appeared to be on ‘the same trajectory as Germany’ and would avoid spikes like those in France and Spain.
The assessment was given by the deputy head of the Emergency Response Department at the key body as he briefed senior peers.
Minutes from the meeting on September 15 show that Dr Nick Gent insisted the UK was ‘on the same trajectory as Germany’ – which has seen a substantial rise in cases, but far lower than many other European countries.
The position contrasted sharply with the government’s SAGE experts, which were calling for far tighter restrictions to curb the spread at the same time.
A PHE spokesman said: ‘Advice was given at the time which was in line with the pandemic and what was seen across the continent.’
Although the most drastic estimates have not been borne out, the PHE stance will raise further questions about its role in the crisis. The body is being replace by a new organisation headed by testing tsar Dido Harding. It also underlines the difficulties for ministers in balancing different assessments from scientists.
By September 15 the UK seven-day rolling average of cases was tracking at more than double that of Germany. The UK rate is now four times that in Germany, and close to the levels in Spain and France.
And a week later SAGE scientists were demanding the government imposes a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown, cautioning that cases could be doubling every seven days.
Dr Gent gave an update to a meeting of the ruling Lords Commission, including the Lord Speaker and other senior peers, along with Professor Virginia Murray, Senior Public Health Adviser and Head of Global Disaster Risk Reduction.
He cautioned that there was no reason to believe the disease had become less virulent, and the lower level of deaths was likely down to younger people being less vulnerable.
But he also said that ‘international comparisons suggested that the UK was on the same trajectory as Germany and would not see the same significant increase as France and Spain.’
Richmond upon Thames (140.4), Hackney and City of London (133.1) and Ealing (132.5) have the highest infection rates in London, according to the Department of Health
Armed police serve Liverpool gym owner with £1,000 fine as he REFUSES to bow to Covid closedown order
Armed police served a Liverpool gym owner with a £1,000 fine for refusing to shut despite strict Tier 3 lockdown rules.
Nick Whitcombe defied the newly-imposed lockdown rules and refused to close Bodytech Fitness in Moreton because they ‘won’t have one to come back to’ if he did.
A member of the public noticed that the gym was still open for business and called the police who issued a warning instructing him to close.
A short while later, when he didn’t shut the premises, ‘seven or eight’ armed police officers turned up his gym, demanding that it close or face a fine.
Police officers (pictured in the gym, right) served Liverpool gym owner Nick Whitcombe (left) with a £1,000 fine for refusing to shut despite strict Tier 3 lockdown rules
This week, Liverpool – and the neighbouring five boroughs which make up the city region – were put under Tier 3 coronavirus lockdown meaning gyms had to shut.
Mr Whitcombe shared footage of police inside his gym and said: ‘[Police officers] were with us this morning, gave us our warning. Then came back this afternoon, orders from their top boss to issue a fine straight away.
‘So, they’ve told us ‘close immediately’ or I’ll take a £1,000 fine.
‘Obviously we still had quite a lot of members training and I said to the officers, ‘I’m not asking anyone to leave. Even if I am I’m going to let them finish their sessions first’.
‘So they’ve issued the fine. First one’s £1,000. They can come back in three hours and issue £2,000. Three hours after that £4,000.
‘It’s disappointing. They sent out seven or eight firearms officers, what a waste of resources.’
Chief Superintendent Claire Richards said: ‘While this lockdown does present huge challenges, the focus of us all should now be on preventing the spread of the virus and getting us back to normality as safely and as quickly as possible.
‘The new restrictions have been brought in to try to achieve that, and if we don’t act decisively and collaboratively, the impact could be harder and last even longer.
‘We will therefore continue to encourage members of the public and businesses to adhere to the guidance, explain why they should and – as in this case – use enforcement where there are clear breaches of legislation.’
As arguments raged over where lockdown restrictions should be imposed, as many as twelve London boroughs have begun to record Covid-19 infection rates tipping over the worrying threshold of 100 cases per 100,000.
Richmond upon Thames (140.4), Hackney and City of London (133.1) and Ealing (132.5) had the highest daily new cases per 100,000 people in the week to October 8, according to Government statistics. None of the 32 boroughs had tipped the threshold before now, according to separate Public Health England data.
Croydon (69.8), Bromley (67.1) and Sutton (64), all in the south, sit at the other end of the scale with the fewest new cases per day — but all of them have still seen a significant hike in infections over the past month.
The average coronavirus infection rate across London’s boroughs is 94.15 cases per 100,000 people, according to the most recent Department of Health data — the equivalent of nearly one person in every 1,000 in the last week.
However, London’s figures appear to be being skewed upwards by the inclusion in the data of infected students studying in other cities. In Richmond, the capital’s supposed hotspot, analysis shows that a quarter of positive cases in the borough since are actually in places including Manchester, Leeds, Exeter and Durham.
Of 212 cases recorded in Richmond since September 20, 49 were in other towns and cities, the Evening Standard reports The vast majority of these people were aged 17 to 21, suggesting they were students originally from London whose cases were recorded using their home address.
It comes after Mayor Sadiq Khan said it is ‘inevitable’ the capital will pass a ‘trigger point’ to join swathes of the North West in the higher Tier 2 coronavirus restrictions in the ‘next few days’. It would see the city’s nine million residents banned from seeing their friends and family indoors, including in pubs and restaurants.
Mr Khan and other London bosses are in support of a national two-week ‘circuit break’ lockdown across the whole of England to stem rising infections to avoid ‘sleepwalking into a bleak winter’. But Tory London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey slammed Mr Khan as ‘incredibly irresponsible’ and accused him of ‘governing by press release’ for supporting drastic action without clear scientific backing.
Reports say 100 cases per 100,000 people is considered one of the thresholds for an area being moved into Tier 2. But ministers are bound to take into consideration an array of different sets of statistics, including ones that show the speed of growth, hospitalisations and deaths.
Data shows hospitalisations for Covid-19 in London have barely risen over the past month, despite cases having increased. Almost 5,000 infected patients were being treated by NHS doctors during the darkest days of the first wave in April — but the figure currently stands at around 300.
But in Liverpool there are mounting warnings spaces could run out next week after a doctor claimed 58 out of 60 critical-care beds in the city are already full.
The city’s NHS critical care beds are usually 85 per cent full at this time of year, with 51 out of 60 beds occupied across three hospitals, according to NHS England data from the past six years.
But councillor Paul Brant has warned Liverpool’s intensive care units are already at 95 per cent capacity, sparking fears of an impending crisis. One senior doctor has claimed only 58 out of 60 beds are currently full, with half thought to be filled by coronavirus patients.
Professor Callum Semple, a doctor in the city and academic at Liverpool University, said in a video released by the council 90 per cent of critical-care beds in the city are full. He warned it was likely capacity would be exceeded in a week.
NHS England data also shows the national capacity of critical care beds is around 80 per cent and has been for several years. There are around 4,000 intensive care beds across the country, health chiefs say.
University Liverpool Hospitals Trust, which runs four hospitals in the city, has yet to reveal exactly how many intensive care beds it has available for the winter. But one of the hospitals it runs says it has 70 beds geared up with breathing apparatus to help Covid-19 patients, meaning the true number could be much higher than last winter.
It is thought this number has risen after Health Secretary Matt Hancock pledged to create thousands more beds to treat critically-ill patients in the wake of Britain’s first wave, amid fears hospitals could be overwhelmed by future waves.