A major incident has been declared in Greater Manchester due to increases in coronavirus infection rates across “multiple localities”.
The decision to up the readiness of emergency and public services to respond to the escalating Covid-19 transmission rate in the region comes after the Government announced new lockdown restrictions for parts of north-west England on Thursday.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced late on Thursday that as of Friday, people from different households in Greater Manchester, parts of east Lancashire and West Yorkshire would be banned from meeting each other inside their homes or in gardens following a spike in virus cases.
Recognising that there are multiple localities across Greater Manchester seeing rises in infection rates, the group...have taken the decision to declare this a major incidentAssistant Chief Constable Nick Bailey
The new rules also banned members of two different households from mixing in pubs, restaurants and other hospitality venues, but those businesses are permitted to remain open for those visiting individually or from the same household.
Out of the top 20 worst affected local authority areas for Covid-19 infections in England, Greater Manchester boroughs make up more than a third of the list with seven entries.
Oldham, the second worst affected borough in the country, saw its seven-day rate jump from 41.6 to 62.8 per 100,000 people, with 148 new cases reported in the past week.
The boroughs of Trafford, Tameside, Rochdale and Stockport, along with the cities of Manchester and Salford, also feature among the 20 worst-hit areas.
Assistant Chief Constable Nick Bailey, chairman of the Local Resilience Forum in Greater Manchester, said the Strategic Coordination Group met this weekend to discuss regulations in response to last week’s announcement.
He said: “Recognising that there are multiple localities across Greater Manchester seeing rises in infection rates, the group reviewed learning from other recent areas, including Leicester, and its own learning from across the partnership and have taken the decision to declare this a major incident in order to respond as effectively as possible.
“This will enable us to maximise the capability of agencies across Greater Manchester, including additional resources if required, to instigate a prompt and positive change in direction.”
He said the decision to declare a major incident was about protecting the population by aiming to reduce infection rates and eventually allow the region to return “to as near a state of normality as current times allow”.
A spokesman for Greater Manchester Combined Authority said the measures announced on Thursday had not changed and that the declaration of a major incident was “no more than a boost to our capabilities”.
“It is absolutely appropriate for us to maximise our resources in the drive to reverse the spike in infection which we have witnessed in the last seven to 10 days,” he said.
1/4 We're constantly looking at the latest data on the spread of coronavirus, and unfortunately we've seen an increasing rate of transmission in parts of Northern England.— Matt Hancock (@MattHancock) July 30, 2020
“The more we stick to the new guidelines and drive the R rate down, the quicker they will be removed.”
Writing in the Sunday Mirror before the announcement, Labour mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said people in the area “on the whole” had been brilliant at adhering to the new rules and rejected “efforts to blame some for breaking lockdown rules”.
The comments follow a claim made by Tory MP Craig Whittaker, whose West Yorkshire seat of Calder Valley was one of the areas affected by the fresh lockdown measures, that it was the “BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) communities that are not taking this seriously enough”.
While the new regulations for Blackburn with Darwen and Bradford – the area with the highest Covid rate in England – were published on Friday, those for Greater Manchester are not expected to be published until this week.
Mr Burnham has said restrictions will be reviewed on a weekly basis.
Meanwhile, former England midfielder Paul Scholes has been accused of holding a party at his Oldham home to celebrate his son’s 21st on the same day lockdown measures were reimposed across parts of the North West.
The Sun cited phone footage as showing revellers ignored social distancing “as they drank and danced” at the seven-hour party on Friday, with the paper citing Tory MP Andrew Bridgen criticising Mr Scholes for “reckless behaviour”.
Greater Manchester Police said they attended the property and encouraged those present to “be compliant” with the newly imposed restrictions.
In national developments, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick cast doubt on reports of so-called “nuclear” options under consideration for avoiding a second national lockdown.
The Times reported the Prime Minister held a “war game” session with Chancellor Rishi Sunak on Wednesday to run through possible options in the event of a second wave of infections, measures that are said to include lockdown-like conditions for London, with the M25 acting as a barrier around the capital.
But Mr Jenrick told Times Radio the mooted proposals, such as asking those as young as 50 to shield from society, were “just speculation”.