Tali Fraser

Three hours to prepare for a local lockdown

Three hours to prepare for a local lockdown
Sign above Market Street in Manchester, Picture: Getty
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My weekend plans have been ruined by Matt Hancock. The government has announced new lockdown restrictions for over four million people – banning separate households from meeting indoors – in Greater Manchester (where I live) along with parts of Lancashire and West Yorkshire.

What does that mean in practice?

When announcing the lockdown on Thursday evening, the Health Secretary tweeted that ‘people from different households will not be allowed to meet each other indoors’, which sounds pretty rudimentary. But would this mean we go back to working from home; that spaces like pubs and restaurants would be closed even if you only visit with your household; could a cleaner come around? No one in Greater Manchester knew. It doesn’t help that the lockdown was announced on twitter only three hours before it came into force, with no detail and no statement on the government’s website. 

It was over two hours later, past 11 in the evening, that the Department of Health finally revealed that people in these areas will not be allowed to mix with other households in private homes or gardens, but that they can still go to bars and pubs, so long as they do not go meet with anyone from another household.

Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Manchester, has asked for young and old alike to observe these requirements, but we will have to wait and see how long they last for – the policy will be reviewed each week. With the country only just opening up for business, will this now effectively shut up shop?

The statistics in Greater Manchester don’t make for pretty reading – coronavirus rates last week had been falling across the region, but they are now rising in nine out of ten of Greater Manchester’s boroughs and ‘across a wider geography’, according to Andy Burnham.

The virus levels in Manchester are concerning: 38 infections per 100,000 people between 14 to 27 July. But that's in the same ball park as Hackney and the City of London (33) and lower than Luton (43). The particularly hot spots are found outside of the city centre in Rochdale (80) and Oldham (76).

That there are specific concerns for certain boroughs won’t make this local lockdown any easier to enforce. That people in Stockport will have to change their plans because of flare-ups in Oldham will not be taken well.

A number of Greater Manchester MPs have already expressed their frustration with the government’s approach in treating the city as a homogenous area. Altrincham and Sale MP and chair of the 1922 committee Sir Graham Brady tweeted that infections in Trafford are low, while his fellow Tory MP William Wragg said that ‘to treat all 10 boroughs the same is not the right approach’.

As Katy Balls reports in this week’s magazine, polls suggest that the public broadly support the Prime Minister’s whack-a-mole strategy of local lockdowns – that is until they find themselves in one.

When I first heard the rules, I thought my family Shabbat dinner would be moved to the garden – with the latest update, it appears to have been cancelled altogether. I will continue to respect the rules, but as people had become used to visits with friends, and certain boroughs feel like they have nothing to worry about, will they respect the decision Matt Hancock made with ‘a heavy heart’?

This article has been updated to reflect further government announcements