The government’s Tier system of local lockdowns is deliberately pitting regions against each other and avoiding an effective national strategy with the necessary financial support
The government has imposed Tier 3 Covid measures on Manchester, with a pitiful £22 million package of support. Receiving the news on their phones during a live press conference, Greater Manchester leaders interrupted Andy Burnham to tell him the news.
Burnham, visible shocked, called the package “disgraceful” and “brutal”, rightly saying “this is no way to run a country in a pandemic”.
During the PM’s announcement, the BBC simultaneously reported that the government had offered Manchester £60m, only £5 million less than its democratic leaders were asking for. But no deal had been reached and the £60m had apparently been withdrawn.
This is not to deny that stricter Covid measures are needed, in Manchester as elsewhere. But they should not happen like this. If the virus is to be contained people need to be on side and adequate economic support made available.
The numbers of Covid deaths have been doubling every two weeks in the UK since the beginning of September, and in the last 24 hours a staggering 241 deaths were recorded. By tomorrow hospitals in Liverpool are expected to have more patients than at the April peak. With no further measures we would be facing at 7,000 Covid deaths per week by the end of November.
The people who are going to die in the next two weeks will in most cases already be infected. This is how the virus works. What we do now, today, will not impact on death rates until the end of November. But act we must, and urgently.
A new major study by the National Institute for Social and Economic Research concluded that locking down one week earlier in March would have halved the number of Covid deaths in the UK.
Rather than learning from past mistakes the government appears to want to repeat them, splintering the UK into competing regions and in so doing denying workers necessary economic support. The sense of national unity felt so strongly in March and April is gone. The blame game began in the summer as the young were pitted against the old; now its region against region.
The Chief Medical Officer admitted on national television that Tier 3 restrictions would not stem the spread of the virus, but we know they will cause unimaginable hardship for many.
Accusations that so called lockdown enthusiasts want to shut Cornwall to save Manchester are completely misplaced. As pointed out by Christina Pagel of Independent Sage, shutting Cornwall will save Cornwall. Cases are rising everywhere and most rapidly in the South West, South East and East of England, where they have tripled under the Tier 1 restrictions currently in place.
If Cornwall and Surrey wish to avoid the fate of Liverpool and Manchester they need to act now - ditch Tier 1 and save lives. But there is no national plan.
Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland have already forged ahead independently of Westminster. Wales has a firebreak, Northern Ireland a circuit break and Scotland its own central-belt lockdown. But the devolved administrations have access to cash that English regions do not.
Some of the poorest regions of the country - Manchester has well above national average unemployment - are now being made to suffer for the lack of a coherent national strategy. It is no exaggeration to say that the government’s support package for Manchester will leave many facing destitution.
Manchester is a city of 2.8 million people, £22m equates to £8 per head. Is this a punishment beating for standing up to the government? After all Lancashire has received £42m for 1.5 million people and Merseyside £44m for 1.5 million people.
We are seeing the incremental introduction of Tier 3 measures region by region, a national lockdown by stealth, without the economic support provided by a national strategy. This is how a divide and rule policy works.
The government has today ignited political tensions as yet unseen during the pandemic. What just happened in Manchester won’t stay in Manchester. Let’s be clear: this is not just Manchester’s fight, it is all our fight.
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