No 10 urged to restart coronavirus restriction talks with Greater Manchester

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Downing Street is being urged to restart talks with Greater Manchester’s political leaders over the highest levels of coronavirus restrictions, amid warnings of rising deaths.

Boris Johnson was also under renewed pressure on Saturday to impose a short national lockdown known as a circuit-breaker to slow Covid-19’s resurgence.

The calls came as new controls including in Lancashire and London mean 28 million people – more than half of England – are living under heightened restrictions.

Both the Prime Minister and Labour have warned the situation in Greater Manchester is “grave”, while the region’s political leaders refuse to accept Tier 3 restrictions without greater financial support for businesses and residents.

“We can assure the Prime Minister that we are ready to meet at any time to try to agree a way forward,” Mr Burnham and council leaders across the region said in a statement.

Shadow education secretary Kate Green called for an end to the “blame game” and for discussions to resume to get the region an adequate support package.

The Labour MP for Stretford and Urmston told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “That has not been offered by the Government. There hasn’t even been discussions over the past 24 hours between the Government and Greater Manchester’s leaders.

“We have to have our local leaders around the table with the Prime Minister or with his representatives to thrash out a deal today.”

Downing Street indicated a discussion had been arranged for Sunday morning after a message was left with Mr Burnham on Saturday, but the mayor’s camp flatly denied any call having been scheduled.

A spokesman for the mayor said: “Nothing has yet been arranged.”

Around 1.5 million more people woke up to Tier 3 restrictions when Lancashire joined the Liverpool region living under the severest controls, with pubs and bars closed unless they can serve meals and indoor mixing banned.

Daily confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK
(PA Graphics)

“I think that spoonful of scepticism is because we’ve been in very similar measures since August and no one has really demonstrated to us the way out or how these measures are working,” he told BBC Breakfast.

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt called for an end to the “public war of words” between local and national leaders, though he said there are “some justifications” for Mr Burnham’s arguments.

But the senior Conservative MP also indicated his support for the circuit-breaker lockdown suggested by Labour and the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).

He said he had “sympathy” for Government adviser Sir John Bell’s view that the national measure might be needed, potentially even including a two-week closure of schools in England.

Sir John, the regius professor of medicine at the University of Oxford, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I can see very little way of getting on top of this without some kind of a circuit-breaker because the numbers are actually pretty eye-watering in some bits of the country and I think it’s going to be very hard to get on top of this just biting around the edges.

“If in the end we have to take kids out for two weeks, calm it all down, and then start ideally embedded in a much more rigorous testing regime then that’s maybe what we may have to do.”

He also tried to increase pressure on Mr Burnham during a Downing Street press conference, and threatened to impose the measures if local leaders did not accept them.

“I cannot stress enough: time is of the essence. Each day that passes before action is taken means more people will go to hospital, more people will end up in intensive care and tragically more people will die,” Mr Johnson said.

But the mayor and council leaders across Greater Manchester, including a Conservative, responded by insisting they have done “everything within our power to protect the health of our residents”, and said people and firms need greater financial support before they accept the lockdown.

Tier 2 measures in London, Essex, York, Elmbridge, Barrow-in-Furness, North East Derbyshire, Erewash and Chesterfield mean people can no longer mix inside with those from other households, including in pubs and restaurants.

Police presence in Old Compton Street, London, on Friday night
Police presence in Old Compton Street, London, on Friday night (Jonathan Brady/PA)

And pubs, restaurants and cafes across Northern Ireland had to close their doors to sit-in customers.

In other developments:

– Sir John Bell said it is “possible” to get to one million coronavirus tests a day by Christmas, but said there would be significant logistical challenges.

– Mr Johnson said the UK is developing the capacity to manufacture millions of fast-turnaround tests for coronavirus which could deliver results in just 15 minutes.

– The Welsh Government was to meet to discuss a circuit-breaker lockdown and will announce any decisions on Monday.

– Some 15,650 lab-confirmed coronavirus cases were recorded in the UK on Friday, alongside 136 deaths.

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