The Prime Minister is expected to decide whether or not Greater Manchester and Lancashire are moved into the top tier 3 category, which would require the closure of pubs and a ban on households mixing indoors and outdoors.
He is expected to face fierce opposition from local political leaders, who have vowed to resist moves to impose stringent local restrictions.
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It is understood that the Joint Biosecurity Centre’s “Gold Command” taskforce signed off on the proposals. The final decision remains with Boris Johnson.
Meanwhile London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan is believed to have told health chiefs that the capital would move into tier 2 by the end of the week, following a meeting with the Joint Biosecurity Centre. This would mean a ban on mixing with other households indoors and commuters urged to keep away from public transport.
Newcastle Council’s chief executive, Pat Ritchie, said “intense discussions” were taking place over whether or not the North East should move to tier 3, with local leaders pressing ministers for health and economic support if that happened. Yorkshire and the Midlands should also be placed into tier 3, the JBC is understood to have urged.
The Prime Minister is facing the threat of legal action from Labour civic leaders, however, who called for a nationwide “circuit breaker” instead of placing their towns and cities alongside Liverpool in the highest category.
Councils across the North of England are also understood to be next in line for stringent restrictions.
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham tweeted that he had had a briefing with the deputy chief medical officer and would have a further meeting with Mr Johnson on Thursday.
But later responding to reports that the JBC had signed off on the measures he said: “At no point during tonight’s briefing was this news communicated to us. Media told first once again. Our position has not changed.”
Resisting Labour demands
Mr Johnson is resisting demands led by the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to impose a two- or three-week lockdown designed to stop the spread of the virus.
The move was advocated three weeks ago – but rejected by Downing Street – by the Government’s Sage committee of experts, which estimated it could reduce deaths by more than 7,000 over the rest of the year and halve hospital admissions.
Although the Government has refused to rule out a national “circuit breaker”, it insists that Mr Johnson’s new system has to be given time to work. Ministers have attempted to secure local leaders’ support for the restrictions in their areas, but instead have encountered growing hostility to the plans.
Mr Burnham said: “If the Government wants to do its tier 3, then fully fund it and don’t put all the pressure on local leaders and let them take the pain and blame. It isn’t the way to run the country. We would respect the law of the land, but we would consider other legal routes to protect our many thousands of residents who are going to be left in severe hardship in the run up to Christmas.
“We would not just leave them in the lurch – we would take any legal action we could take on their behalf.”
Earlier Mr Burnham and the 10 council leaders in Greater Manchester said that they would refuse to be “levelled down” by the response to the pandemic and rejected the Government’s “drive to pile pressure” on the region to enter a tier 3 lockdown.