The government has reimposed lockdown restrictions on half a million people in Greater Manchester just 12 hours after they were lifted, following a rise in infections.
The health secretary, Matt Hancock, said Trafford and Bolton would remain under enhanced restrictions banning gatherings in homes and gardens “following a significant change in the level of infection rates over the last few days”.
The decision came after Bolton’s Conservative-run council and Trafford’s Labour administration both wrote to Hancock on Tuesday to ask him not to lift restrictions as planned on Wednesday.
Chris Green, the Conservative MP for Bolton West, said he was “disappointed” at the U-turn.
“Despite what I and local press understood, Bolton is being kept in local lockdown. I’m disappointed at how this important decision has been communicated because of the impact this will have on people’s lives,” he tweeted.
Hancock said: “This decision has been made in collaboration with local leaders after reviewing the latest data. We continually monitor outbreaks across the country, and have seen infection rates increase more than three times in Bolton in under a week, and double in Trafford since the last review.
“We have always been clear we will take swift and decisive action where needed to contain outbreaks. We can bring the rates down if we continue to work together and I urge everyone to continue to play their part by following the rules – get tested if you have symptoms, self-isolate and practise social distancing.”
When Hancock announced on Friday that Bolton and Trafford would be released from lockdown, the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the measures would be lifted “on Wednesday”, leading residents and politicians to assume that meant as soon as the clock struck midnight.
However, shortly after noon on Wednesday the DHSC issued a press release announcing the latest U-turn, saying the lifting of restrictions in Burnley, Hyndburn, Stockport and parts of Calderdale, Kirklees and Bradford would go ahead from midday on Wednesday.
The announcement came hours after Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, said it would be “completely illogical” to lift restrictions in Trafford and Bolton and urged residents in the two boroughs to ignore government advice and continue to follow restrictions.
“We find ourselves in a completely unsustainable position this morning. That’s the politest way I can put it,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “Overnight we’ve had restrictions lifted in two boroughs with rising cases – in one case in the red zone – and neighbouring boroughs are still under restrictions but with much lower numbers of cases.
“These restrictions were always hard to explain to the public but they’re completely illogical now.”
The confusion follows days of anger from Labour MPs and council leaders who said they and their directors of public health had been “completely ignored” by Hancock in order to appease Conservative MPs. Most of the areas where restrictions were lifted overnight, including Hyndburn in Lancashire and parts of West Yorkshire, are at least partly represented by Tory politicians.
The latest data for Bolton, from 30 August, shows the weekly incidence rate is now at 66.6 cases per 100,000. This compares with 18.9 per 100,000 between 17 August and 23 August.
In Trafford, there are now 36.8 cases per 100,000 people, up from 17.8 per 100,000 between 17 Aug and 23 August.
Andrew Western, the leader of Trafford council, said: “I don’t call this a win. We all want restrictions out as soon as possible & proper funding for hyper local action. I take no pleasure in seeing increased cases. We should never have been put in this mess in the first place; this has massively damaged public confidence in measures,” he tweeted.
Residents of Bolton and Trafford will remain under the same restrictions as those in nearby Salford, Rochdale, Bury, Tameside – which all have lower rates of infection.
Greater Manchester leaders are pressing for a change in approach towards door-to-door testing and tracing, instead of piecemeal lifting of blanket measures across whole boroughs.
People in the Greater Manchester borough of Stockport, as well as Burnley and Hyndburn in Lancashire, were freed from the restrictions on Wednesday following the decision announced by Hancock last Friday.
The measures, imposed 36 days ago, have also been lifted in parts of Bradford, Calderdale and Kirklees in West Yorkshire.
Council leaders in Bolton and Trafford wrote to Hancock on Tuesday asking him to change course, only four days after the health secretary announced the plans.
Conservative-led Bolton council had last week asked to be removed from the restrictions imposed on 31 July, while the Labour-run Trafford council warned it was too early to do so.
Western wrote to Hancock on Tuesday to complain that his authority’s health officials had been overruled to appease Tory MPs in what he describe as a “haphazard and nakedly political approach”.
In a letter, he told the health secretary Trafford’s infection rate had increased 100% over the past week and that its representations, urging for restrictions to be kept in place for at least two weeks to allow the safe opening of schools, had been “completely ignored”.
The area’s Tory MP, Graham Brady, the influential chair of the Conservatives’ 1922 Committee, had wanted the measures to be eased.
Source: The Guardian