Manchester Faces Strictest U.K. Virus Curbs After Talks Fail

Boris Johnson is forcing Greater Manchester into the U.K.’s tightest coronavirus restrictions after the government failed to reach agreement with local leaders.

The prime minister said in a news conference that the region will go into the top tier of restrictions from Thursday night, forcing pubs and bars to close unless they serve meals and banning households from seeing each other.

The government will give the region 22 million pounds ($28 million), as well as an unspecified amount of extra funding. The region’s mayor, Andy Burnham, said ministers had refused to offer the 65 million pounds local leaders said was the “bare minimum” to support businesses and low paid workers.

Johnson has so far stood firm against another nationwide lockdown, preferring instead to target restrictions at a local level, but said he could be forced to impose one if infection rates continued to spiral.

“We’re walking a narrow path here today because we don’t want to go back into a national lockdown, with all the damage -- social and economic -- that that can do, unless we absolutely have to,” he said.

Regions Versus Capitals

Tensions between regions and central government have also flared across Europe, often along opposing political lines, as virus numbers spike. In Spain, the Socialist administration is considering imposing a curfew on Madrid, which is controlled by the center-right. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel wants stricter restrictions but many states are opposed.

The challenge becomes how to tackle a second wave and balance the need to save the economy, and jobs, with the necessity to save lives. It’s one that’s palpable in Manchester, a major city in the poorer northern part of England.

Burnham called on lawmakers in Parliament to intervene to force the government to provide a “fair” package to communities facing tighter restrictions.

In a televised statement earlier on Tuesday, Burnham said the money is needed for the poorest employees. “It is people working in pubs, bookies, driving taxis,” he said. “People too often forgotten by those in power. But this city region has never walked on by and it never will.”

Toughest Restrictions

Greater Manchester is among a number of regions in the north of England recording the country’s highest Covid-19 infection rates and hospitalizations. Liverpool City Region and Lancashire are already in the top tier of curbs.

The move demonstrates how far Britain’s response to the pandemic has fractured along political and geographical lines. Labour’s Burnham and other local politicians resisted pressure from Johnson’s Conservative ministers for the region to be moved into the highest level of localized lockdown amid concerns about the impact on the region’s economy.

Burnham had the support of local MPs from Johnson’s own party who also want to avoid the strictest curbs.

Labour leader Keir Starmer said the collapse of the Manchester talks was “a sign of government failure”.

“Labour recognize the need for stricter public health restrictions,” Starmer said in a statement. “However, that must be accompanied by extra financial support. Labour will continue to support Andy Burnham in the fight for people’s jobs, lives and livelihoods.”

Johnson is keeping to his strategy of targeted measures aimed at virus hot spots and has resisted calls for a coordinated national lockdown, despite Wales and Northern Ireland announcing such measures.

Official figures released Tuesday showed that a further 241 people who tested positive for coronavirus died in hospitals across the U.K., with 21,331 new cases reported. That brings the total number of confirmed deaths nationwide to 43,967.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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