Birmingham could be forced into a local lockdown ‘as Matt Hancock chairs gold command meeting over spiralling cases in the city’
- Matt Hancock is claimed to have chaired the ‘gold command meeting’ today
- They discussed Birmingham’s cases with the council and Public Health England
- Birmingham’s infection rate has more than doubled over the past fortnight
Birmingham could be forced into lockdown today as ministers meet to discuss plans to tackle the city’s spiralling Covid-19 outbreak.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock is said to have chaired the ‘gold command meeting’ this morning, alongside council bosses and Public Health England.
Official figures show the city of Birmingham’s infection rate has more than doubled over the past fortnight, with around 25 new cases of coronavirus for every 100,000 people — up from just 11 in the first week of August.
Council leaders are desperate to avoid further damage to the already-crippled local economy by being hit with tougher lockdown measures, like policies imposed in the North West and Leicester.
Oldham — currently the worst-hit place in England with a new infection rate of 70.5 cases for every 100,000 people each week — is also said to be teetering on the brink off a full-scale local lockdown that could see restaurants, bars, gyms and shops close.
Labour council leader Sean Fielding warned it was a ‘very real threat’. Official data shows the town’s infection rate tipped 100 last week but has since dropped 37 per cent.
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham claimed ‘there is certainly no case’ to give Oldham, home to 235,000 people, additional measures.
He argued it was ‘clear’ the current policies imposed across the region at the end of July — which ban separate households from meeting each other at home — have helped tackle spiralling cases.
And Mr Burnham has asked ministers to release Wigan from the tougher measures because its infection rate is still low and hasn’t spiked. Three MPs and council leaders have also asked for the town to be freed.
Government statistics shows the infection rate in Wigan — the number of new cases being diagnosed per every 100,000 people each week — has continuously risen since the end of July to 9.4. But it is still below the national average (10.2).
Official figures show the city of Birmingham’s infection rate has more than doubled over the past fortnight, with around 25 new cases of coronavirus for every 100,000 people — up from just 11 in the first week of August. Pictured, an eerily quiet street in Birmingham city centre
There are hopes Wigan will be freed from tougher Covid-19 restrictions as Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham says cases have slowed in the borough.
Blackburn with Darwen
Newark and Sherwood
Oadby and Wigston
The infection rate is how many cases were diagnosed for every 100,000 people living in the district in the week ending August 11 – the most up-to-date figures from Public Health England.
Birmingham City Council’s leader Ian Ward told the Local Government Chronicle that Mr Hancock would chair the meeting this morning.
He said: ‘We are trying to avoid a local lockdown for obvious reasons – we don’t want to hurt the local economy. But there are no easy answers.
‘We are talking to government about a plan for dealing with the spike in cases. The difficulty is there is nothing we can easily point as being the cause.
‘There is no business with a big outbreak – although there are a number of businesses with small outbreaks across the city. The maximum has been six cases in one location.’
Mr Ward revealed the council will ask the government to provide more walk-in and drive-in test centres across the city.
Birmingham is not currently on Public Health England’s coronavirus watchlist, which last Friday released its list of 29 hot-spots.
Officials announced Newark and Sherwood, home to around 120,000 people, was an ‘area of concern’. Around 26.3 coronavirus cases were diagnosed for every 100,000 people living in the district in the week ending August 11.
For comparison, the authority’s weekly infection rate was higher than four areas that have already been hit with tougher restrictions in the North West — Stockport (25), Trafford (20.3), Wigan (9.2) and Rossendale (4.2).
Nine boroughs on the watchlist, including Swindon (44.1) and Northampton (38.6), have yet to be hit by a ban on household gatherings.
No further restrictions were imposed on Oldham last week, despite fears it would be hit with tougher measures. Mr Burnham urged the Government not to ‘overreact’ to the spike in cases and has since called for Wigan to be released from the measures.
Speaking at an virtual press briefing yesterday, Mr Burnham said: ‘We will be going to the government today to say that the measures are working and we would want to see them remain in place in nine of our ten boroughs with the higher number of cases because obviously we need to bring those numbers down further.
‘In the case of Wigan however, it is clear, I think, the measures have had a preventative impact and have stopped the increase that we’ve seen in other parts of Greater Manchester. I think we can say that they’ve worked.’
Mr Burnham agreed with Wigan Council leader David Molyneux who said it was ‘unfair on people in Wigan to continue those restrictions given the case numbers are at a fairly consistent level’.
Mr Molyneux said: ‘I think there’s now a very strong case for the easement of the restrictions in Wigan and I’m sure the people of Wigan would fully appreciate that.’
‘I’m very pleased and very proud of the residents in the way that they’ve reacted during this current situation we’ve had to deal with.’
Council leaders wrote to Mr Hancock yesterday asking to release the Wigan borough from the Greater Manchester restrictions.
But the other nine boroughs need to be kept under review, they admitted, with five still seeing increasing cases.
Greater Manchester as a whole has seen cases stay stable at around 35 per 100,000 people in the last two weeks, data provided in the virtual press briefing shows.
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham claimed ‘there is certainly no case’ to give Oldham, home to 235,000 people, additional measures
MPS WARN LOCKDOWN WOULD ‘DEVASTATE’ OLDHAM’S ECONOMY
Locking down Oldham would devastate the town’s already-crippled economy, three Labour MPs and Manchester councillors have warned in a letter to Matt Hancock.
Oldham West MP, Jim McMahon, Debbie Abrahams, MP for Oldham East, and Labour’s new deputy leader Angela Rayner have urged the Health Secretary to avoid a ‘blunt lockdown’ that will ‘cost more job losses’.
Writing in the letter, the MPs said: ‘A local lockdown doesn’t just have the potential to close down businesses, and with that cause almost certain job losses in areas with almost no recent positive test results, but it also dilutes the available resources to fully target areas which are at risk.
‘Any intervention must be targeted, resourced properly and evidence based, all the time ensuring that the approach taken tackles head on any attempt to malign or stigmatise communities; providing clear data with a full understanding of the drivers of spread, and the testing regime being used.’
But Bury, Manchester city, Salford and Trafford have all seen an uptick in cases in the week to August 15, despite the tougher Covid-19 measures.
Wigan’s infection rate has gone up from 7.3 to 9.4 in the past week, and is higher than the end of July, when it was 7.
Oldham, meanwhile, tops the list with an infection rate of 83.1 per 100,000, as it teeters on the brink of a full lockdown.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has refused to rule out a local lockdown despite pleas from local officials to avoid ‘knee-jerk’ decisions and an ‘overreaction’.
Speaking to ITV News, Mr Hancock said yesterday: ‘No, we don’t rule anything out of that kind, in Oldham or anywhere else in the country.’
A Government spokesperson said it was unlikely any announcement on local lockdowns will be made today.
There has been consistent pushback over the approach, which Mr Burnham said was not right for Oldham, even if it was for Leicester.
During the virtual press conference last night, Mr Burnham said he had written to Mr Hancock and said there was ‘no case’ to impose further restrictions for Oldham.
The letter, co-signed by three Labour MPs, petitions for a further two week reprieve to give enough time for the local measures to keep working.
‘We believe we can say with credibility that the strategy is working,’ Mr Burnham said.
‘It is highly targeted, it is proportionate, and we believe that the case is made to continue what we are doing, to see if we can then create a further decrease in the coming days.
OLDHAM LOCKDOWN WOULD ‘INFLAME TENSIONS’
A return to full lockdown restrictions across Oldham would ‘inflame community tensions’ in the borough, its council leader has warned.
In an interview with the Manchester Evening News, council leader Sean Fielding said that a major concern about lockdown measures being brought in was around its impact on ‘social cohesion’.
‘There are examples of people in communities who are pointing the finger of blame at other communities, using that to justify their own non-compliance with the restrictions,’ he said.
‘We’ve had house parties in various parts of the borough. We’re taking enforcement against several businesses that aren’t in the central Oldham areas.
‘We have got a particularly high incidence of cases in central Oldham areas, and those are areas where there are more people from the south Asian community.
‘However also in those communities you have high levels of poverty, high levels of cramped and overcrowded housing, high levels of people that work in public facing occupations that never shut down because they were essential workers.
‘To label it as an ethnicity issue is quite crude and not accurate, there are many more underlying factors.’
So there is certainly no case today to impose further restrictions on Oldham beyond the prohibition of social gatherings in the home.’
The leader of Oldham Council, Sean Fielding, said that a full lockdown is ‘a very real threat for Oldham’ based on communications with the Government.
He said: ‘We’ve had communication from Government that it’s something that is genuinely being considered.
‘So, it is very real. It is a very real threat for Oldham, make no mistake at all, but we are resisting it strongly for all of the reasons that I’ve set out today.’
He added: ‘It’s almost a frustration that the plans that we want to get on with delivering on, in order to bring the infection rate down in the way that we need to, we’re not running at full capacity with those because so much of our time has been spent having arguments with government and others about how we are opposed to local lockdown and we think that it’s the wrong thing.’
Mr Fielding told reporters the closure of bars, restaurants and shops would make no ‘measurable difference’ to the spread of Covid-19 because the vast majority of new cases were spreading between households.
‘It’s not coming from people going to non-essential businesses and picking it up from buying a t-shirt in a shop that was previously closed, or drinking a pint down the pub,’ he said.
‘Closing down non-essential businesses in Oldham would not change that, it would not solve that problem,’ he said, warning that the economy is ‘fragile’ and had not recovered from the national lockdown.
‘To inflict a further close down of the economy would be catastrophic for us and that’s why we are resisting it strongly,’ he told reporters.
Despite this, Mr Fielding and several MPs in favour of keeping Oldham open say there is ‘no evidence’ to suggest more people have caught the virus in recent weeks and blame climbing infection rates on more widespread testing.
In an interview with The Guardian, Mr Fielding said a local lockdown would be a ‘premature’ move and would not be ‘based on evidence’.
He claimed that it would be very hard to quarantine Oldham from the region as the town is ‘completely and utterly interconnected’ with other parts of Manchester.
LOCKDOWN RULES: WHAT YOU CAN AND CAN’T DO
Areas affected: Preston, Greater Manchester (City of Manchester, Trafford, Stockport, Oldham, Bury, Wigan, Bolton, Tameside, Rochdale and Salford), Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Hyndburn, Pendle, Rossendale, Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees and Leicester.
You must not: Meet people you do not live with inside a private home or garden, except where you have formed a support bubble (or for other limited exemptions to be specified in law).
Visit someone else’s home or garden even if they live outside of the affected areas.
You should not: Socialise with people you do not live with in other indoor public venues – such as pubs, restaurants, cafes, shops, places of worship, community centres, leisure and entertainment venues, or visitor attractions.
Punishments: Fines, starting at £100 and halving to £50 if paid in the first 14 days but doubling for subsequent offences.
HOW MANY PEOPLE WILL BE AFFECTED BY THE RULES?
Greater Manchester (including City of Manchester, Trafford, Stockport, Oldham, Bury, Wigan, Bolton, Tameside, Rochdale and Salford): 2,835,686
Blackburn with Darwen: 149,696
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