Two North West mayors – including Greater Manchester’s Andy Burnham – have slammed national coronavirus policy after the infection rate for the region crept back above 1.
Data released on June 5th showed that shortly after lockdown measures were relaxed by the conservative government, the rate of transmission in the North West spiked.
Burnham, and Mayor Steve Rotheram of Liverpool, both criticised the government’s handling of this spike, and called for frequent, real time data updates.
To tackle the coronavirus pandemic on a local level, individual regions need to understand what the infection rate (R-0) is to keep the virus’s spread in check.
Burnham said that the R-0 creeping back above 1 last week was “a significant development”, and that restrictions should be re-imposed in the North West.
He said: “Wherever possible, stay at home.”
When Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that lockdown measures were being lifted, Burnham said that it was being done too soon for the North West.
Days before Johnson’s public address altering the government’s advice, Burnham said: “any significant lockdown release would be premature.”
In light of the new and troubling data, Burnham and Rotheram outlined a number of policy proposals they will submit to the government.
Both want a more robust test, track, and trace system in place as soon as possible, regional data from which should be regularly published, at least once a week, ideally.
They say this data should be used to introduce flexible lockdown regulations in different regions, to allow local councils to adapt to their R-0.
And that flexible regional lockdown restrictions ought to apply to the re-opening of schools and shops.
Burnham feels that headteachers have been put under undue pressure to re-open at certain times, even if the infection rate was climbing in their area.
Both mayors want independent validation on any re-opening of shops in the North West from SAGE before they can recommend to their constituents that doing so is safe.
Despite their calls for flexibility in local restrictions, both mayors expressed reservations about regional lockdowns.
While Rotheram worried that local areas could face economic stigma if they are locked down more than other regions, Burnham noted it was unclear how the furloughing system would continue under regional lockdowns.
Rotheram was especially harsh in his criticism of the government, saying their approach had been “back of a fag packet.”
The implication has been made this weekend that government plans have not taken into account the advice or concerns of local councils, a charge which Burnham has levelled at the government before.
They confirm that the NHS has responded quickly to the recent demographic report revealing that BAME communities had been hit the hardest by the virus, and plans have been drafted to help local minority communities.
However, they both warn that ultimately, the best way to prevent the spread of the disease is not to take too much advantage of the freedoms recently restored by the Conservative government, but instead to continue to stay at home as much as possible.
In a joint statement, both mayors said: “We ask everyone to make a renewed commitment to follow the official guidance and to stay at home as much as possible.
“In fact, we would go further and advise people to err on the side of caution and to use the new freedoms carefully and safely.”
Resources continue to be available online for those seeking official guidelines for businesses, people hoping to volunteer and do their part to help locally, and the latest official medical advice.