Ministers are facing open revolt from leaders in northern England over fresh coronavirus restrictions due to be announced within days, as mayors, MPs and council leaders vowed they would fiercely oppose any new measures without substantial financial support.
Pubs, bars and restaurants across Merseyside, Greater Manchester and parts of the north-east of England could be forced to close next week in an effort to slow the soaring infection rate.
MPs in the north of England and Midlands are receiving a briefing from the government’s Covid taskforce in which officials and ministers are expected to outline the alarming rise in cases and hospital admissions.
Andy Burnham, the Greater Manchester mayor, said he was “losing patience” with the government after the planned shutdown leaked on Thursday – days after Matt Hancock promised to improve its communication with local leaders in a call with regional mayors on Monday.
Alongside the leaders of Liverpool, Newcastle and Leeds, Burnham is demanding that local authorities be allowed to see details of the restrictions – and any proposed financial support – before they are announced. “There is no way at all I will sign off on the closure of any business without a local furlough scheme,” he said.
The Guardian understands that the majority of northern England, from Barrow in Cumbria, to Merseyside, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, parts of Yorkshire and most of the north-east, as well as Nottinghamshire in the Midlands will be under some form of coronavirus restrictions under a new three-tier traffic light system due to be outlined within days.
The sharp rise in hospital admissions in the worst-hit areas has alarmed decision-makers in the regions as well as Whitehall. More than a third of Covid patients in England’s hospitals are in the north-west of England, where hospital admissions have risen sevenfold since the start of September.
The number of patients on ventilators is now at its highest in the region since the end of May in the north-west, north-east and Yorkshire.
Steve Rotheram, the mayor of the Liverpool city region, said hospital admissions in Merseyside were rising towards the same levels as the peak of the pandemic in April and that, if further restrictions were imposed, businesses and residents would need an economic lifeline.
“Significant restrictions, like those being proposed, must also come with significant financial support for local businesses that will be affected, local councils who are leading our public health efforts and for NHS test and trace,” he said, adding that it was “deeply disappointing” that there was no “genuine dialogue” with ministers.
Simon Fell, the Conservative MP for Barrow-in-Furness, said he and local leaders had agreed on Wednesday to ask the government for restrictions on household mixing to be put in place in Barrow – where the infection rate has topped 200 cases per 100,000 people – but not across the whole county of Cumbria.
Fell is part of a growing Tory rebellion on the nationwide 10pm curfew, which he said having the opposite effect of what was intended. “I haven’t seen the science for that. Frankly my concerns is that it’s spilling people out into the streets and into house parties and it’s those uncontrolled environments where the infections are spreading. Looking at the data we are not seeing cases in Covid-secure venues,” he said.
It is understood that officials in Lancashire have proposed north-east-style restrictions banning household mixing in all indoor settings – including pubs, restaurants and bars – across the region apart from Ribble Valley and Chorley. However, this has yet to be signed off and is subject to local disagreement.
In Lancaster in north Lancashire – where cases are still under the national average at 33 per 100,000 people and no infections at all have been reported for the last two days – the council leader, Erica Lewis, said she couldn’t support any additional measures which would affect residents’ wellbeing and livelihoods without guarantees of government support.
“If we are asking people to restrict their movement, to not work, to close their businesses, the government needs to find ways to provide both economic support and social support,” she said.
“The idea that everybody can just be connected to friends and family via the internet isn’t true for everybody. If we are going to go into those levels of restrictions then we need to make sure people have access to food, that as it gets colder and darker people can afford heating. One of things we have all learned through this crisis is that the government likes to make big announcements but often hasn’t thought through the detail.”