In a press conference this afternoon, Boris Johnson stepped up his war of words with Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, after the government failed to reach an agreement with the region about moving into Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions again today.
The Prime Minister then stressed the ‘grave’ situation in the area, with cases doubling every nine days, infection rates rising up the age range, and the number of Covid patients in Manchester ICU beds at 40 per cent of the number during the first wave. The PM said that on present trends, in just over two weeks, there would be the same number of patients in Manchester’s ICUs as during the first wave.
Boris Johnson urged the Greater Manchester mayor to therefore ‘reconsider and engage constructively’ and promised to intervene in the region if no agreement is reached, ‘in order to protect Manchester’s hospitals and to save the lives of Manchester’s residents.’
The implication of Boris Johnson’s speech today was fairly bleak: by resisting greater restrictions, he essentially accused Andy Burnham of putting lives at risk in his area. This is the most pressure the government has put on any local region since the tiered system was introduced this week.
It’s clear that the Prime Minister is not quite prepared yet to force Greater Manchester into stricter restrictions without the support of local leaders. When asked at the press conference why he was not acting more quickly if he felt the situation was so grave in Manchester, Johnson replied that it would be ‘much, much better if we can work with our friends in local government’.
So far, the mayor’s position has been to oppose greater restrictions in the region until the government offers more financial support for closed-down businesses and furloughed employees, while also supporting a nationwide lockdown if cases are truly out of control. He has also suggested that Greater Manchester could take legal action against the government if the area is moved into Tier 3 without its consent.
Boris Johnson praised the local approach to restrictions again today, and pointed out that ‘closing businesses in Cornwall, where transmission is low, will not cut transmission in Manchester.’ He has not yet ruled out introducing national restrictions for Covid. But for now, the Prime Minister is saying that if the Manchester mayor wants more Covid restrictions, it will have to be through the tiered system. The ball is now firmly in Andy Burnham’s court.