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Greater Manchester mayor urges against Oldham lockdown after a spike in coronavirus cases 

Greater Manchester’s mayor Andy Burnham has urged ministers not to ‘overreact’ by sending Oldham into a full lockdown.

He called on Number 10 not to introduce ‘knee-jerk measures’, as coronavirus cases continue to increase in some parts of Greater Manchester. 

It comes just days after Oldham council leaders said they were in discussion with the Government about a local lockdown, which could come into force ‘within days’ if the virus wasn’t controlled.

The town was hit by tough restrictions on socialising between households at the end of July, along with the other nine boroughs of Greater Manchester as well as parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire.

But Oldham, home to around 235,000 people, currently has the worst infection rate in England, with the number of new cases for every 100,000 people having doubled to 107.5 per week in the past seven days.

Council bosses said 255 new cases of Covid-19 were diagnosed in the week ending August 8, compared with 137 cases the week before.  

Manchester City Council leader Sir Richard Leese claimed there was ‘no evidence’ that additional lockdown measures would improve the chances of halting the virus.

But in a letter to Matt Hancock, local chiefs have asked that there was no further easing of restrictions in Greater Manchester this weekend as planned for the rest of England. 

Beauty salons will be able to carry out face treatments such as eyebrow threading and facials from Saturday, the Prime Minister announced last night. In addition, indoor soft play areas, indoor theatres, bowling alleys, skating rinks and casinos will be permitted to reopen from this weekend.

Speaking at a weekly media briefing last night, Mr Burnham said: ‘What worked in Leicester is not necessarily going to be right for Greater Manchester, given the interconnected nature of the city region, and I think we’re going to have to have a very considered approach to this rather than crude measures which become further divisive among different communities and different boroughs. 

‘We need to be proportionate, targeted and focus on measures that are going to work. 

‘That is the thrust of the letter we have sent to Government today – no knee-jerk measures but work with us to get whatever interventions we do right and obviously make them as effective as possible.’ 

Leicester was the first place in Britain to have local restrictions enforced to tackle a surge in Covid-19 cases, now thought to be linked to working conditions in clothes factories.

Schools and non-essential shops were ordered to close again and people prevented from meeting up in groups or going to others’ houses. The ban on household gatherings still applies to Leicester. 

But new cases in the city have halved since last month. However, it still has the third-worst infection rate in England (66.7) – which has risen 26 per cent in a week.

Figures presented at the press conference last night revealed Oldham’s infection rate hit around 108 per 100,000 people in the week ending August 8.  

Oldham’s infection rate is as high as it was at the peak of Britain’s epidemic in April, and has doubled since the week before (57.8). 

For comparison, Leicester had 135 cases per 100,000 people when it became the first, and only, location in England to go under a full local lockdown on June 30. 

Figures from the council reveal most of the new cases diagnosed in the past four weeks have been people in their 20s and 30s, with women in their 20s making up the majority. 

Some 255 new cases diagnosed in the week ending August 8, compared with 137 cases the week before. 

Oldham Council said on Wednesday that despite additional measures being put in place in the borough two weeks ago, the number of positive cases has continued to increase. 

It said it was in discussions with central government about a full lockdown which could take place within ‘days rather than weeks’ unless people adhere to the measures. 

Mr Burnham agreed that the figures were a ‘major cause for concern’, but he wanted the town to be given another week to allow more time for current restrictions worked. 

‘While figures have been worrying this week we must also not kind of overreact, there is a danger of doing that,’ he said, according to the Manchester Evening News.  

Mr Burnham said a full lockdown could cause ‘serious difficulties’ for people living in the region. 

‘You would have to consider what a lockdown would do to an area like Oldham on the Leicester model,’ he said.

‘It could have serious implications for businesses, serious implications for people’s mental health.

‘Why are our poorest communities being hit? It’s because of the inability of many people in those places to self-isolate and this is a real gap in our defences and we’re leaving poorer communities exposed to this virus if we don’t fix this.’  

Sir Richard said: ‘There is no evidence to support at the moment that additional lockdown measures would improve the chances of reducing the number of cases.’

He added that officials in Oldham had ‘really upped’ test and trace at a local level – rather than relying on the Government system – and were now carrying out around 1,000 tests a day.

The vast majority of those testing positive for coronavirus in Greater Manchester overall were either asymptomatic or had barely any symptoms, he said.

For the week ending August 8, the infection rate for Greater Manchester as a whole is 35.3 – up from 28.6 the week before.  

But Sir Richard said Oldham is the only part of Greater Manchester that has a ‘red rating’ for its numbers of cases, suggesting it must be seen as separate to the rest of the area.  

He added that infection rates had dropped in Salford, Trafford and Wigan.  

Despite this, Sir Richard and Mr Burnham said they had written to Mr Hancock not to allow the reopening of businesses such as casinos and ice rinks, which had been due to take place this weekend, in Greater Manchester. 

Mr Burnham said: ‘The first thing that we’ve said to the Health Secretary is that we don’t believe that it would be right to see the further relaxation with regard to the opening of a range of additional business premises this weekend or in the near future.’

The mayor said there would be targeted enforcement against pubs, restaurants and supermarkets not following guidance.

He said the pub industry needed ‘to get more serious’ by capturing people’s names and addresses of customers so the test and trace system works. 

It comes just two days after an undercover investigation by Sky News discovered nine out of ten venues in Greater Manchester were not following guidance.  

An undercover team visited a variety of hospitality venues in one suburb, posing as walk-in customers, finding most did not ask the customers for their details to support the NHS track and trace system. 

Mr Burnham warned last week that pubs in Greater Manchester will need to close if the contact tracing system was not improved.

According to the BBC, he said: ‘There is a growing amount of evidence that pubs are one of the main places where this virus spreads.’ 

Mr Burnham also said last night he would be writing to the major supermarkets to call for a stricter approach to enforcing the wearing of face coverings in stores.  

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