LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday he would intervene with further localised restrictions to fight a rapidly growing second wave of the coronavirus pandemic after more of northwest England was put on the highest COVID alert level.
Tougher restrictions were announced for Lancashire, but Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has resisted a move to put his area in the highest tier unless the government increases its financial support through the winter.
“If agreement cannot be reached, I will need to intervene in order to protect Manchester’s hospitals and save the lives of Manchester’s residents,” Johnson said at a news conference.
As a second wave of the pandemic builds, Johnson’s government has pursued a tiered approach to shut down local regions with surging cases, in the hope it can allow the least-affected areas to remain open to protect the economy.
From Saturday, Lancashire will face the toughest measures under the system to curb the spread of the virus, including the closure of pubs.
Cases have surged in the region that is home to towns such as Burnley, Blackburn, Blackpool and Preston, forcing Lancashire into the very high alert level of Tier 3, along with nearby Liverpool and Merseyside.
On Friday, Johnson reiterated his belief in a localised approach rather than a new temporary national lockdown.
“Some have argued that we should introduce a national lockdown instead of targeted local action. I disagree,” he said.
“While I can’t rule anything out, if at all possible, I want to avoid another national lockdown.”
On Friday, more data suggested that England was still seeing a sharp rise in cases. The Office for National Statistics’ Infection Survey said there was an average of 27,900 new cases per day in the latest week.
The ONS said there had been a 50% increase in infections compared to the previous week and that infections in the North West continued to grow while cases in the North East were levelling off.
While infections in England are still rising sharply, the survey did imply a slowdown in the spread of the coronavirus compared to the previous week, which was backed up by an estimated growth rate of the pandemic published by the government.
(Additional reporting by Kate Holton and Andy Bruce; editing by Stephen Addison)