Matt Hancock today denied targeting Eid celebrations with a last-minute move to introduce strict new lockdown restrictions on 4.5million people living in Greater Manchester and parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire.
The Health Secretary defended last night’s surprise announcement to tackle the surge in coronavirus cases across the region, which he made in a series of tweets at 9.15pm – less than three hours before the rules came into force.
Residents in all of Greater Manchester, Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Hyndburn, Pendle, Rossendale, Bradford, Calderdale and Kirklees are now banned from mixing with any other households indoors or in a garden to reduce Covid-19 infections.
But people can still visit pubs, restaurants, cafes, shops and places of worship as long as it is with people they live with and they avoid interaction with others outside their bubble. The measures will be reviewed in a week’s time, Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham has said.
Mr Hancock was today asked whether the rules were aimed at stopping families getting together for Eid al-Adha, an Islamic festival that will run until Monday night. There is a large Muslim population in the north west. He told the BBC: ‘No. My heart goes out to the Muslim communities in these areas because I know how important Eid celebrations are.’
There is anger today as the strict restrictions were announced on social media just 165 minutes before lockdown began, with many people living in the zone likely to be unaware the new lockdown had started at all when they woke up this morning.
Labour leader Keir Starmer blasted the move as a ‘new low for the Government’s communications during this crisis’, while shadow business minister Lucy Powell, who is the MP for Manchester Central, described it as a ‘disaster’. ‘With no one around to be able to answer some of the basic questions, I really think is not the way to build confidence and to take people with you and maximise compliance with these steps,’ she added.
There is also confusion because some of the areas, such as Rossendale, have only seen three three confirmed coronavirus cases on any day since start of July. In Trafford, Greater Manchester, there have been around ten cases per day in a borough with 236,370 residents and infections are ‘very low’, despite a small rise in cases, officials said this week.
Local MP William Wragg said: ‘Greater Manchester is not a homogenous area. We must always err on the side of caution but to treat 10 boroughs the same is not the right approach.’
Spikes in Oldham and Blackburn with Darwen have both been driven by soaring rates among Asian communities, councillors have said. Arooj Shah, deputy leader of Oldham Council, confirmed they had seen a rise in cases among Oldham’s Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, which account for up to two thirds of overall new cases in the Manchester town.
Eighty-five per cent of new Covid-19 infections in Blackburn with Darwen have been among people from South Asian heritage, which also make up around a fifth of the local authority’s residents. Around 20 per cent of Oldham’s population are from Bangladeshi and Pakistani heritage, compared to the 2.8 per cent average in England and Wales.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock today admitted the Government had planned more ‘targeted, specific local action’ in Oldham and Blackburn but could see that coronavirus was ‘spreading more widely than that’ so ‘we had to take the action that we did’.
He said: ‘The reason for that is we’ve seen these increases across the board in Greater Manchester as well as the other areas that are affected.’
The new lockdown means that in nine areas of the north:
The move came amid fears Britain is heading for a second wave following a surge in infections in European countries including Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg and Croatia.
Boris Johnson yesterday warned of a resurgence as the UK reported the highest daily total of Covid-19 cases for more than a month. There were 846 new infections, the greatest number recorded since June 28 when there were 901.
Announcing the new regional lockdown last night, Mr Hancock said: ‘The action that we’ve taken across parts of northern England where we can see that increase in the number of cases is all about keeping people safe.
‘What we’ve seen is one of the causes of this increase is households gathering together and ignoring the social distancing rules.
‘So we’re having to bring in firm action and say two households cannot meet indoors, because that way we can help to stop the spread of the virus. We can see a second peak coming in parts of Europe, that’s why we’ve taken some of the action we’ve had to.’
Shadow business minister Lucy Powell described the way in which the Government announced the new coronavirus restrictions on parts of northern England as a ‘disaster’.
Speaking on Times Radio, the MP for Manchester Central said: ‘I mean announcing them two hours before they come into effect is a bit of a bolt out of the blue.
‘With no one around to be able to answer some of the basic questions, I really think is not the way to build confidence and to take people with you and maximise compliance with these steps.’
She said she was ‘none of the wiser’ about the data that has led to widespread restrictions on parts of northern England, including in her own constituency.
‘I follow the data extremely closely as a Member of Parliament and I’m still none the wiser about what the data is that has generated this action so swiftly across such a broad area’, she said.
‘If we had a much better track and trace system in place we’d be able to see much more clearly some of the localised nature or where these transmissions are actually occurring, and take action more strongly in a more localised fashion rather than across such a broad area.
‘We are still getting less than 50% of tests back within 24 hours and frankly that is just not good enough.’
‘There’s a huge number of questions here and it’s not clear to me what the data is that is sowing such significant change over the last few days that such widespread measures are necessary, and I think it’s something that I should know’.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer criticised ministers for making the announcement at just before 10pm and on social media. He said: ‘Announcing measures affecting potentially millions of people late at night on Twitter is a new low for the Government’s communications during this crisis.’
Matt Hancock was grilled on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning about the latest restrictions in the North West and the decision to announce them at the eleventh hour last night.
Mr Hancock defended the move, saying: ‘If the Labour leadership in London doesn’t think that people across the north of England can follow social distancing rules when they’re announce, then they’re wrong.
‘People are very largely following the rules as we are bringing hem in and we do have to make changes because we’re trying to tackle a virus that spreads through social contact.
‘It’s one of the sad things about this virus, that it thrives on exactly the sort of social contact that we all love and that makes life worth living.’
Asked if the spikes in cases were being triggered because people were confused about what they can and can’t do following the easing of lockdown, Mr Hancock appeared to conceded that the rules had become ambigious.
He said: ‘Well we are bringing in more advertising to set out exactly what people need to do and make clear that the basics are still incredibly important – washing your hands, the use of face coverings and social distancing – and if you get symptoms you must get a test.’
The health secretary said the Government has not closed pubs or recommended people in the North West to start working from home again because the data showed the ‘spread was happening between households visiting each other and people visiting their family and friends’.
Mr Hancock added: ‘One of the features of this pandemic is that, in Government, we’ve had to take decisions swiftly and then announce them swiftly so people know about them.
‘We’ve done this with the local authorities, with officials of public health on the ground and talking to them about how we do it.’
There was further concern that the restrictions – which affect areas with large Muslim populations – were announced hours before the celebration of Eid al-Adha began. Many compared it to cancelling Christmas at 10pm on Christmas Eve.
Probed about whether last night’s late hasty announcement was made to block Eid celebrations, Mr Hancock said ‘no’.
He added: ‘My heart goes out to the Muslim communities in these areas and I know how important Eid celebrations are.
‘I’m very grateful to the local Muslim leaders, in fact across the country, who’ve been working so hard to find a way to have Covid-secure celebrations, for instance celebrating Eid in parks where there’s more space available, and of course outdoors is safer than indoors.’
The health secretary was then asked why meeting friends and families in outdoor gardens was being banned, to which he said: ‘Parks and outdoor public spaces are the safest option because for many people to go to a garden you have to go through a house and then you get more complicated rules.
‘I think it’s just a human tendency that when you’re in your own home you do get closer.’
Under the regional lockdown, meeting up with another household indoors at home will be banned, with police given powers to enforce it.
Pubs and restaurants will stay open but customers will be advised not to visit them with people they do not live with. However, it is not thought that police will have enforcement powers if they refuse.
The current rules for England in general state two households can meet indoors – including in a pub or restaurant – but should not touch each other.
Official data shows that coronavirus cases are going down in one area of Greater Manchester – even though lockdown restrictions have been placed on the entire region.
NHS statistics show infection rates have declined by 44 per cent in Rochdale over the past week.
All nine other boroughs – Bolton, Stockport, Tameside, Oldham, Trafford, Salford, Bury, Wigan, and the city of Manchester – have been hit by a spike in outbreaks.
Local Tory MP William Wragg said treating all 10 boroughs the same was ‘not the right approach’.
Stockport, which is home to 290,000 people, saw the biggest rise in Covid-19 cases between July 21 and 27 – the most recent data.
Fifty-five people were diagnosed with the disease across the borough. This equates to a rate of 18.9 cases per 100,000 people – 150 per cent higher than it was the week before.
Trafford saw a 94 per cent rise to 39.3 and Oldham’s rate rose 90 per cent over the course of a week to 57.3, making it the second worst-hit authority in England.
Wigan also saw a 127 per cent spike over the last week – but its infection rate is much lower and currently stands at 7.7 cases for every 100,000 people.
Infection rates jumped by between 60 and 80 per cent in the city of Manchester (27.2), Bury (16.3), Tameside (16.0) and Salford (22.4).
Bolton’s rate jumped by 12 per cent to 16.8.
The weekly rate in Rochdale – the seventh worst-hit area of England at the moment – dropped to 27.3.
Health chiefs only provide rolling weekly infection data for England’s upper-tier local authorities, which are often county councils.
It means it isn’t possible to see how outbreaks are growing in smaller regions in Lancashire and Yorkshire unless local health bosses release the data they have.
For example, figures show cases are still dropping slightly in Blackburn with Darwen (down 9 per cent to 83.3), which operates as a lone authority.
But other parts of the county hit by the lockdown restrictions – Burnley, Hyndburn, Pendle and Rossendale – all fall under the bracket of Lancashire.
Lancashire’s infection rate currently stands at 10.9 – 6 per cent lower than the rate last week.
Local papers have, however, reported that infection rates are almost 40 in Pendle and Hyndburn.
Bradford – one of the three areas of West Yorkshire hit by Matt Hancock’s tough new measures – has seen a 1 per cent increase in cases. Data shows its infection rate now stands at 45.8.
Calderdale’s has risen 64 per cent to 36.7. But the rate in Kirklees has dropped 23 per cent to 20.5.
All three boroughs are in the worst dozens authorities in England currently.
Mr Hancock said the regional measures had been imposed following a meeting of the Local Action Gold Committee which comprises Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, senior officials from the Department of Health and Public Health England and some ministers and senior civil servants.
The lockdown covers a much greater area than Leicester’s, which was imposed on June 29 and will be eased from Monday.
Pubs, cafes, bars and restaurants will reopen in the locked-down city from August 3, Labour MP Liz Kendall announced last night.
People will also be permitted to go on holiday with their own household, but leisure centres, gyms and pools will remain closed.
Andy Burnham, the Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester, urged locals to adhere to the new rules.
He said: ‘Over recent days, there has been a marked change in the picture across Greater Manchester with regard to the spread of Covid-19.
‘We have gone from a falling rate of cases in nearly all of our boroughs last week to a rising rate in nine out of 10 affecting communities across a much wider geography.
‘In Rochdale, the one borough where cases have fallen, they are still too high.
‘We have always said that we will remain vigilant and be ready to respond quickly should the need arise.
‘In line with that approach, I have agreed with the Health Secretary that it is right to act on the precautionary principle and introduce modest measures now to bring down the rate of new infections.
‘I ask all Greater Manchester residents – young and old alike – to protect each other by observing these new requirements. They will be reviewed weekly; meaning the more we stick to them, the quicker they will be removed.
‘This is a place which prides itself on looking out for each other. We now need to be true to that by not acting selfishly and keeping the health of others in mind at all times.’
But the timing and manner of Mr Hancock’s announcement drew criticism from Labour.
Sir Keir Starmer noted how when Downing Street concluded its daily briefings regarding the virus in June, ministers promised to still hold conferences for ‘significant announcements.’
‘It’s hard to imagine what could be more significant than this,’ he said.
Taking to Twitter, Sir Keir added: ‘No one would argue with putting in place local action to reduce the transmission of coronavirus.
‘But announcing measures affecting potentially millions of people late at night on Twitter is a new low for the government’s communications during this crisis.
‘For all the bluster, government has failed to deliver a functioning track and trace system that would spot local flare ups like these.
‘The people of Greater Manchester now need urgent clarity and explanation from the government – and there must be proper support for those businesses and people affected by any lockdown.’
Labour MP for Tottenham David Lammy added: ‘The Government’s shambolic announcement of local lockdown measures on Twitter tonight is the result of its total failure to deliver the functioning track and trace system it promised the country.
‘Boris Johnson is asleep at the wheel.’
First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon said the decision was the ‘right’ one.
She tweeted: ‘The UK government is right to act quickly if they think the situation warrants it.
‘But this is a sharp reminder that the threat of this virus is still very real. Please abide by the all FACTS advice and stay safe.’
Mr Johnson had yesterday urged the UK not to ‘delude’ itself into thinking the pandemic was over as he warned of up to 30 places where outbreaks were ‘bubbling up’.
On a visit to North Yorkshire, Mr Johnson said there would be ‘real consequences’ that would put the economic recovery in jeopardy if the virus was allowed to make a ‘damaging’ comeback.
His cautious message came as Mr Hancock warned there was a ‘second wave rolling across Europe’ and the country must ‘do everything in our power to stop it reaching our shores’.
Challenged on whether his remarks were risking hysteria at a time when infection levels in the UK are still significantly down from their peak, Mr Hancock told Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I’m the Health Secretary in the middle of a global pandemic, so you’ll excuse me for being concerned about the health of the British people and that is absolutely at the front of my mind.’
Ministers were yesterday warned not to fuel hysteria over a resurgence in the virus, with Labour MP Chris Bryant saying: ‘It makes me so angry that the Government are so loose with their language. There isn’t a second wave rolling out across Europe.’
Mr Johnson is also coming under pressure from within his own party not to panic over the rise in infection rates.
A group of more than 30 backbenchers led by Henry Smith is expected to send him a letter today that calls for the introduction of testing at airports to help travellers reduce the length of time they have to quarantine for if they arrive from an at-risk country.
Lord Lamont, the Tory ex-chancellor, last night urged ministers not to lose focus on the economic recovery and warned them against taking blanket measures across the whole economy.
He said: ‘The one thing we cannot afford is another total lockdown. The economy has got a long uphill struggle.’
The Mail revealed earlier this week how the Prime Minister is ‘extremely concerned’ about the possibility a second spike of infections could start in the next two weeks.
His remarks in recent days come in stark contrast to his message a fortnight ago when he expressed hope that all social distancing restrictions may be ditched in time for Christmas.
Yesterday, Mr Johnson insisted Britain has had ‘massive success’ in bringing down mortality rates but warned: ‘I have to tell you we’re looking at a resurgence of the virus in some other European countries, you can see what’s been happening in the United States.
‘So it is absolutely vital as a country we continue to keep our focus and discipline, and that we don’t delude ourselves that somehow we’re out of the woods or that this is all over, because it isn’t all over.’
Despite the rise in the level of infections, the numbers are still way below the peak on May 1 when 6,201 cases were confirmed in just one day.
Mr Smith, whose Crawley constituency includes Gatwick Airport, last night said: ‘Testing should play a much larger role in giving people confidence to travel.’
Health Secretary Matt Hancock last night that people from different households in Greater Manchester, parts of east Lancashire and West Yorkshire will be banned from meeting each other in their homes and in their gardens from midnight.
The new restrictions apply to the whole of Greater Manchester, parts of east Lancashire including Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Hyndburn, Pendle and Rossendale as well as Bradford, Calderdale and Kirklees in West Yorkshire.
The same restrictions will also apply to Leicester, which saw the first so-called ‘local lockdown’ imposed on June 29.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said that the new measures will mean people in these areas will not be permitted to mix with other households outside those in their support bubbles in private homes or gardens.
Households will be able to go to bars, pubs and other hospitality venues but two households should not go together, the department added.
The DHSC said that restrictions currently in place in Blackburn which saw indoor swimming pools, indoor fitness and dance studios, indoor gyms and sports facilities remaining closed will continue.
In a series of tweets Mr Hancock said that there had been an increasing rate of transmission in parts of Northern England.
He said that this was due to ‘households gathering and not abiding by the social distancing rules’ and the new rules were being put in place in order to ‘keep the country safe’.
The Government said it will sign new regulations to make the changes ‘legally enforceable’ and will give local authorities and police forces the powers to enforce these restrictions.
According to the most recent figures from Public Health England (PHE) the rate of infection is increasing across 13 of the 19 local authorities in the areas where the new measures are being imposed.
In Blackburn with Darwen, the rate has risen from 83.3 cases per 100,000 people in the seven days to July 20 to 89.3 in the seven days to July 27. A total of 133 new cases have been recorded.
Leicester has the second highest seven-day rate despite it falling from 67.8 per 100,000 people to 60.2 over the same period, with 214 new cases.
Over the same period the rate has also increased in Manchester, Burnley, Pendle, Bradford, Calderdale, Oldham, Bury, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford and Wigan, but fell in Hyndburn, Rossendale, Kirklees, Bolton and Rochdale.
Rochdale, Oldham, Blackburn and Pendle have been on a PHE watchlist as an ‘area of concern’ after elevated rates of infection.
The DHSC said that from Monday restaurants, cafes, bars and hairdressers in Leicester can open again in line with the easing of restrictions across the rest of the country on July 4.
Leisure centres, gyms and pools will remain closed but cinemas and museums will open and religious ceremonies will be able to take place, it added.
The department said that all local restrictions currently in place in the neighbouring borough of Oadby and Wigston will end.
But Mr Hancock said that the restrictions on social gatherings imposed on Greater Manchester, East Lancashire and West Yorkshire would also apply to the city of Leicester.
Your household – as defined in law – is only the people you live with. If you have formed a support bubble (which must include a single adult household i.e. people who live alone or single parents with dependent children aged under 18) these can be treated as if they are members of your household.
It will be illegal for people who do not live together to meet in a private home or garden, except for limited exceptions to be set out in law. You should not host or visit people you do not live with, unless they are in your support bubble. If you live in the affected areas, you should not visit someone’s home or garden regardless of whether this is in or outside of the restricted area.
Yes. Where people from single adult households (people who live alone or single parents with dependent children aged under 18) have formed a support bubble with another household, they can continue to visit each other, stay overnight, and visit other public places as if they were one household.
In line with the national guidance, you can continue to meet in public outdoor spaces in groups of no more than six people, unless the group includes only people from two households. You cannot meet people you do not live within a private garden.
At all times, you should socially distance from people you do not live with – unless they are in your support bubble.
Due to higher rates of infection, if you live in this area you should not host or visit friends and family in each other’s homes or gardens. It will shortly be illegal to do so, unless specific exemptions apply. You also should not meet friends and family in other venues – including restaurants or cafes.
Up to two households, or six people from any number of households may meet outdoors (excluding people’s gardens) where there is a lower risk of infection. If you do so, you should still socially distance from those you do not live with, and avoid physical contact.
You may attend a mosque or other place or worship, where Covid-19 Secure guidance applies, but you must socially distance from people outside of your household. This means maintaining a distance of 2 metres, or 1 metre with mitigations (such as wearing face coverings). We recommend at this time that, if possible, prayer/religious services take place outdoors.
Yes. People living inside and outside of this area can continue to travel in and out for work. Workplaces must implement Covid-19 Secure guidance.
I live in this area. Can I still go to cafes, restaurants, the gym and other public places?
Yes. But you should only go with members of your own household – even if you are going outside of the restricted area.
No. This will be illegal.
Clinically extremely vulnerable people will no longer have to follow the shielding guidance from the 1 August, unless they live in Blackburn with Darwen in the North West and other local affected areas across England where shielding continues.
You should not visit friends or family in care homes, other than in exceptional circumstances. Care homes should restrict visits to these circumstances.
Weddings and civil partnership ceremonies in these areas can still go ahead. No more than 30 people should attend a marriage or civil partnership, where this can be safely accommodated with social distancing in a COVID-19 secure venue. Further guidance can be found here.
Large wedding receptions or parties should not currently be taking place and any celebration after the ceremony should follow the broader social distancing guidance of involving no more than two households in any location or, if outdoors, up to six people from different households.
Yes. Weddings should be limited to no more than 30 people and subject to COVID-19 Secure guidelines.
People living outside the lockdown areas may travel into the areas to attend a wedding, but should not go into a private home or garden.
Yes, but you must socially distance from people outside of your household. This means maintaining a distance of 2 metres, or 1 metre with mitigations (e.g. face coverings). We recommend at this time that if possible prayer/religious services take place outdoors.
Yes. Funerals should be limited to no more than 30 people and subject to COVID-19 Secure guidelines.
People living outside the lockdown areas may travel into the areas to attend a funeral.
Yes. However, you must avoid socialising with people indoors when doing so.
You should try not to share a vehicle with those outside your household or social bubble. If you need to, try to:
Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said the measures would be reviewed on a weekly basis.