Nine Tory MPs criticise government's 'crude' lockdown strategy

Letter to Matt Hancock comes as Preston faces fresh coronavirus lockdown

Nine Conservative MPs in Greater Manchester have written to Matt Hancock criticising the government’s “crude and ineffective strategy” to regional lockdowns and requesting a more hyper-local approach.

Their letter to the health secretary came as Preston faced further restrictions after coronavirus infections doubled in a week.

Clusters have also emerged over the Pennines in Leeds, concentrated in and around the Kirkstall and Harehills neighbourhoods. The council said the city’s seven-day rate had been gradually increasing from 4.1 cases per 100,000 people early last week to 13.3 as of Wednesday.

Neither Preston nor Leeds was subject to the reintroduction of certain lockdown restrictions last week, unlike neighbouring local authorities in Greater Manchester, east Lancashire and West Yorkshire.

But Lancashire county council’s director of public health, Dr Sakthi Karunanithi, said he expected stricter rules to be imposed in the city in the next few days, with residents already being asked to follow a number of extra measures to halt the spread of the virus.

The government is expected to provide an update on local restrictions on Friday following concerted lobbying from Conservative MPs.

On Thursday the nine Tory MPs in Greater Manchester wrote that the government needed a “more sophisticated” approach to local lockdowns.

The MPs, representing constituencies in Wigan, Bury, Stockport, Trafford and Bolton, said lockdowns should be imposed at borough or town level rather than across the whole region of 2.8 million people.

A person wearing a mask  in the city centre in Preston
A person wearing a mask in the city centre in Preston Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

They said: “Measures must be taken on a borough-by-borough basis and on a town-by-town basis in boroughs where there are only one or two coronavirus hotspots but the rates in other parts of the borough are low.”

Infections are rising in Stockport, particularly among teenagers and in the 40-49 age group, the local council said on Thursday. They are also increasing in Bury, Bolton, Manchester, Salford and Tameside.

Though the decision on lockdowns is ultimately taken by national government, the mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has rejected the idea of releasing some of the 10 boroughs before others.

The Tory MPs reject this “one-size-fits-all” approach, which they call “crude and ineffective”, saying it “risks spreading resources too thinly across the whole conurbation, including in areas with few or no cases.”

Data from Public Health England shows that Preston recorded 49 new cases of Covid-19 in the week to 31 July, equating to almost 35 cases per 100,000 population, with 18 cases recorded in one day alone.

Avenham Park area in Preston
Avenham Park area in Preston Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

It was the second biggest increase in cases behind Blackburn with Darwen, which recorded 119 new cases.

Karunanithi told BBC Radio Lancashire that he expected the government to impose restrictions “in the next few days”. “That is my personal and professional opinion, given the statistics, the direction of travel and given the size of the issue,” he said.


Preston residents have been advised to take extra precautions. Last Friday the city council urged locals to avoid having visitors from another household in their homes and to wear face coverings in all indoor public places.

A nightclub in Preston was criticised for reopening on Saturday night – the first to reopen in Britain during the crisis. Switch nightclub had tickets priced up to £180 and said it was operating only as a bar, but footage showed people apparently dancing and singing together.

Terry Woods, the deputy chief constable of Lancashire police, said that to “open a venue of 500 young people with drink is just not helpful at all”. The council said it was aware of videos on social media and pledged to investigate.

Switch’s owners said they had always planned to get the club back open but as a bar rather than a nightclub. “It is, and has always been, our intention to reopen and repurpose Switch to deliver a safe and enjoyable experience … even if it’s as a bar,” they said.

In Leeds, the council is is taking preventive steps to stop further escalation of cases and to stay on top of community transmission, including sending mobile testing units to affected areas.

Judith Blake, the leader of Leeds council and chair of the Leeds outbreak control board, said: “Our outbreak planning has meant we’ve been able to identify these clusters early and intervene quickly, so it’s our hope that by working closely with people living in these areas, we can manage and contain these cases and prevent a wider outbreak.

“But we can’t do that alone and it’s absolutely imperative that residents play their part by following the latest advice.”


Nazia Parveen and Helen Pidd

The GuardianTramp

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