Liz Truss Has Rejected Calls From Local Leaders In The North To Devolve More Powers To Tackle Coronavirus Outbreaks
Liz Truss said the government was striking a "delicate balance" in their response to local outbreaks
Liz Truss has batted away calls from local council leaders in four northern areas to provide them with more powers to tackle a surge in new coronavirus cases.
It comes after the leaders of Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle and Leeds council wrote to Health Secretary Matt Hancock saying they were "extremely concerned" about the rise in cases in the North of England and hit out at the "national response".
Areas in the North are among the worst hit by a fresh surge in cases with Leeds' infection rate rising above 300 cases per 100,000, while Manchester rose above 500 cases per 100,000 and Newcastle and Liverpool both above 400.
But the group of Labour politicians told Mr Hancock the existing restrictions were "not working, confusing for the public and some, like the 10pm rule, are counter-productive".
"We want to be clear however that we do not support further economic lockdowns," they added.
And they called for additional powers to take immediate action to tackle the outbreak, including a locally-controlled test and trace system and the ability to immediately shut premises which fail to comply with Covid-19 restrictions.
Further pressure was heaped on ministers over the local lockdown plans after Professor John Edmunds, a member of the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said the current measures "haven't been very effective".
Speaking to BBC's Newsnight he said the government's "light touch" approach was just "delaying the inevitable".
"We will at some point put very stringent measures in place because we will have to when hospitals start to really fill up," he said.
"Frankly, the better strategy is to put them in place now."
But speaking on Wednesday morning, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss defended the government's approach, saying they were following the scientific advice and trying to "keep that balance between protecting lives and livelihoods".
"We don't want to go back to a second lockdown where we end up having to close the economy. We have always said we will keep everythig under review," she added.
"We absolutely want to avoid another lockdown. The right approach is to have local restrictions in place, to restrict spread of the virus."
And hitting back at the calls from local leaders she said there were already powers in place to fine rule breakers, but insisted lockdown measures had to remain "co-ordinated" across the country.
"There are significant powers already in terms of fines which can be used for people who aren't sticking to the rules. Those are in place already," she said.
"Those are administered by police, by local authorities already. Those powers do exist in terms of that action being taken right across the nation... But this is not just an national problem it is an international problem.
"We do have to make sure our restrictions are co-ordinated. We do have to make sure they address the specific issues and we are operating on the best scientific and medical advice.
"If there are other views then they have to say what differences they would actually make because what we are trying to do here is to balance keeping people's livelihoods going and protecting lives at the same time."
She added: "That is a really difficult balance to strike. We are having to do things we don't want to have to do and these decisions are inherently uncomfortable and I think that is part of the national discussion we are having at the moment."