London despairs at new Covid rules as northern England regions rebel

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Andy Burnham says northern England has been treated with contempt

Londoners have expressed confusion and doubt over coronavirus lockdown restrictions announced Thursday that will affect millions living in the city.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the capital would move from the Tier 1 “medium” alert to Tier 2 “high” alert level from Saturday, urging London residents to support government efforts to suppress the spread of the virus.

Pubs and restaurants already had a 10 p.m. curfew under Tier 1, but the new rules mean Londoners will be banned from mixing with other households indoors in any setting. Outdoor gatherings will be limited to six people and people are advised to avoid using public transport where possible.

Schools, places of worship and businesses can remain open.

For many, it’s difficult to understand how any lockdown that does not include schools can be effective.

New Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show that 100,000 schoolchildren are currently infected with the coronavirus.

The ONS calculates that the children are part of the more than 336,000 people in England have the virus. But while schoolchildren represent 20% of England’s population, they are 30% of those currently infected.

The virus is spreading in schools more than anywhere else – and the government is fully aware of this because their own SAGE scientists have repeatedly told them so.

On Friday, Britain’s largest teaching union, the National Education Union (NEU), also urged a two-week half-term circuit break to help the government get control of the test, track and trace system.

But divisions between ministers and government scientists were highlighted once again when Sir Patrick Vallance the government medical adviser confirmed that he and other experts had recommended the two-week circuit breaker.

Official figures showed there were 15,650 new cases on Friday, which was more than 3,000 below Thursday’s total of 18,980.

There were 136 deaths – the fourth successive day when the figure rose above 130.

Rising of the North

Lancashire agreed to enter Tier 3 on Friday, but local leaders in the city of Manchester are locked in a standoff with the government after they rejected a move to put the area into the highest alert level.

Greater Manchester mayor, Andy Burnham, who has accused ministers of treating the region as a “sacrificial lamb”.

Mr Burnham wants more financial support for people affected by tougher rules.

Northern mayors said in a joint statement they were “united” in a “fight for what is right”.

“The government is claiming that the north is divided and only interested in getting what we can for our own region. That is simply not the case,” said Mr Burnham, North Tyne mayor Jamie Driscoll and Steve Rotheram, mayor of the Liverpool City Region.

Greater Manchester residents will have Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions imposed on them even if local leaders do not agree, Boris Johnson has warned.

Andy Burnham said in a statement on Thursday that the government’s “flawed and unfair strategy” was asking local authorities to “gamble our resident’s jobs, homes and business and large chunk of our economy on a strategy that their own experts tell them might not work.”

Speaking at a news conference from Downing Street, flanked by chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, and government medical adviser Dr Susan Hopkins, the prime minister said: “If agreement cannot be reached, I will need to intervene in order to protect Manchester’s hospitals and save the lives of Manchester residents.”

He added the situation there was “grave” and “worsens with each passing day”, and that action was needed to avoid more people going into intensive care and dying.

In a rebuttal to the prime minister’s remarks, Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and council leaders from across the region said they “do not believe that the current proposals provide adequate support”.

Calls for national lockdown

Johnson emphasised localised restrictions as he brought in the new system, rejecting opposition demands for a “circuit breaker” lockdown across England. Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have different restrictions in place, with Wales refusing to allow travellers from coronavirus hotspots in other UK countries to cross its borders.
A preprint paper written by scientific advisers to the UK government said thousands of deaths could be averted before the end of the year if a two-week circuit breaker is imposed soon.

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