COVID-19: Tier negotiations delayed getting virus under control, says minister
A minister has launched a thinly-veiled attack on the mayor of Greater Manchester as he explained why the government will not be entering into talks with individual regions about coronavirus restrictions.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told Sky News that such discussions – held before the government opted to introduce a second COVID-19 lockdown earlier this month – had delayed areas going into tiered restrictions.
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“I’m afraid that in itself was one of the reasons that led to perhaps not getting on top of it [the virus] as quickly as possible,” he told Kay Burley.
The remarks will be seen as an implicit criticism of Greater Manchester’s Labour mayor Andy Burnham.
He was involved in a fierce row with ministers last month over the area going into Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions.
Asked if he was referring to Mr Burnham, the transport secretary responded: “I’m not blaming anybody, but it’s clear that in Liverpool, where Tier 3 came in quite quickly, we’ve seen the cases come right down. It’s been a real success story.
“We have seen elsewhere, where tiers didn’t come in as quickly, for various different reasons, that actually it wasn’t as successful.
“That is a fact, I’m afraid. We don’t want to be in that position again.”
When it was put to him that Mr Burnham would argue that he was standing up for the interests of his residents, Mr Shapps told Burley: “The most important thing if you’re standing up for your region is to save people’s lives.”
Mr Burnham said Mr Shapps’ comments were “not true”, adding: “If you go back to those negotiations with the government, we were left waiting over a whole weekend – myself and the 10 leaders of Greater Manchester – while the government walked away.
“They need to get their facts right.
“We wouldn’t have been in that position had the government listened to SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) back in September and brought forward the national circuit breaker much earlier.
“I don’t know how the government thinks it’s helpful to do this.
“I also don’t know why they think imposing tiers on the whole country is an appropriate response just because they had a row with me.
“It doesn’t sound like very grown-up government to me.”
The transport secretary said new data, which will be released “in the next day or so”, will help decide which areas go into which tiers.
“It will be on the basis of the number of cases, for example the number of cases in the over-60s, where it’s much more likely that it [the virus] could be more fatal, and things like the speed at which coronavirus is rising or falling in a particular area and a couple of other measures along those lines,” Mr Shapps said.
“We’ll look at all the data for the country and then we’ll be able to allocate the tiers out to the country as a whole.”
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Boris Johnson confirmed on Monday that England’s national shutdown will end on 2 December, with a return to the previous tiered system from 3 December – next Thursday.
However, the prime minister said the restrictions will be strengthened in a number of ways. The new rules across the three tiers are outlined here.
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