Manchester Leaders Are "Bitterly Disappointed” At Staying In Tier 3 Despite Covid Rates Going Down
The leader of Manchester council said it was "bitterly disappointing” that the city will stay in tier 3 coronavirus restrictions over Christmas, despite falling infection rates.
It comes after Matt Hancock announced Bristol and North Somerset were the only areas in England moving out of the toughest level of measures, while more of the south and south east of the country were being placed into tier 3.
The changes mean from 00:01 on Saturday, a total of 38 million people, 68% of the population of England, will be living under the toughest restrictions, which sees the closure of hospitality venues and bans all indoor mixing of households.
Greater Manchester has already endured such severe restrictions since October, and local leaders had hope that a decline in infection rates in the region might see them downgraded to tier 2, allowing pubs and restaurants to re-open.
In a statement, Manchester council leader Sir Richard Leese said: "I cannot say that this announcement is not bitterly disappointing so close to Christmas.
“For many of our businesses the possibility of trading, even in a limited way, would have been a brief respite in what has been a devastating year.
"So many sectors of our economy have faced disappointment after disappointment this year, made worse by a government unresponsive to the dire situation they were in.”
He added: "Businesses are trying as hard as they can to find ways to comply but with the goalposts constantly moving it is becoming an impossible task.
“Had this decision been made a few weeks ago I'm certain we would be in tier 2.”
In the Commons the Tory MP Sir Graham Brady, who represents Altrincham and Sale West in Greater Manchester, told the health secretary his statement “will be greeted with dismay” in a region which has had “severe restrictions for nine months, where in nine of the ten boroughs rates are below the national average”.
The chairman of the powerful 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers said to Mr Hancock: “Can I tell him as well that my constituents have behaved responsibly and that our rates are lower than they are in neighbouring Warrington or in neighbouring Cheshire, which have been put into tier 2, and are also lower than they are in Bristol - which has been moved from tier 3 to tier 2 today.
"What exactly do we have to do to move out of tier 3?"
And another Greater Manchester MP, Labour’s Andrew Gwynne, said that staying in tier 3 is “yet another blow for our hospitality”.
He tweeted: "It seems we are trapped in this system arbitrarily which was always my worry - and despite our cases dropping, we are now being held back because of the utter mess Government has made of its Christmas relaxation rules."
In his statement Mr Hancock said: “We’ve seen case rates fall across large parts of England.
“And I know that many places in tier three have seen their rates reduce, but I have to tell you we are not quite there yet. The pressures on the NHS remain.”
He said in Bristol and North Somerset the rates of coronavirus have come down from 430 per 100,000 to 121, and therefore could move from tier 3 to tier 2 from Saturday.
And in nearby Herefordshire infections have fallen enough for it enter tier 1, joining only Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight to be in the lowest category, the only one where household mixing indoors is allowed.
But the health secretary defended the decision, explaining that case rates in the south of England are up 46% in the last week, while hospital admissions are up by more than a third.
“It is therefore necessary to apply tier three measures across a much wider area of the east and south east of England, including Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Peterborough, the whole of Hertfordshire, Surrey, with the exception of Waverly, Hastings and Rother on the Kent border of East Sussex, Portsmouth, Gosport, and Havant in Hampshire,” he explained.
“These changes will take effect from one minute past midnight on Saturday morning. And I know that tier three measures are tough, but the best way for everyone to get out of them is to pull together, not just to follow the rules, but do everything they possibly can to stop the spread of the virus.”
It comes after London and parts of Hertfordshire and Essex were placed under the top level of restrictions earlier this week.
Mr Hancock said the UK has "come so far" and "mustn't blow it now”, and urged people to take "personal responsibility" in keeping the pandemic under control.
"It's so vital that everyone sticks at it and does the right thing, especially over this Christmas period,” he added.