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Coronavirus: Failure of test and trace system to blame for rising cases in worst-hit areas, Andy Burnham says

The failure of the government’s test and trace system is responsible for rising cases in the country’s worst-hit towns, the mayor of Greater Manchester has said.

Andy Burnham spoke to Sky News on Saturday as six areas in Greater Manchester feature in Public Health England’s “watchlist” of places where the number of coronavirus cases is a cause for concern.

Mr Burnham said a report shows the test and trace system is reaching only half of the people who have been in contact with somebody who has been infected with coronavirus in the 20 most-affected areas of the country.

He added: “And the question you have to ask is – why is it so low in the places where we need it to be highest?

“And I would say, one of the reasons is, people in those places, the poorest communities in the country – they simply cannot afford to self-isolate when they are asked to do so by NHS Test and Trace because they won’t be paid.

“Or worse they will fear losing their job. And this is the issue that the government has to correct.”

Mr Burnham added that it is “not fair for the government to threaten these places with a lockdown, when they aren’t doing some of the basic things that could be done to help those communities manage the spread of this virus”.

The mayor also said that many people didn’t go on the furlough scheme and worked all the way through the lockdown in the places that have the biggest rates of the virus.

Mr Burnham added that “there are millions of low-paid people in our country who cannot afford to do what the government is asking them to do”.

He continued: “I’m calling for a system like jury service, where if you’re asked to do something by the government you should have your pay covered and you should be able to do that straight away.

“I can’t see how we’ll get through this winter safely until that flaw is corrected.”

The council in Oldham, the worst-hit part of the country according to PHE’s watchlist, has enlisted Pakistan’s national cricket captain to encourage local residents to follow the latest coronavirus guidance.

Strict new social distancing measures have been introduced in the Greater Manchester town after a spike in coronavirus cases.

Azhar Ali’s message comes nearly two weeks after the local authority recruited Inbetweeners star James Buckley to share the coronavirus advice after a rise in cases.

Ali, who is captaining Pakistan during their test match series against England in Southampton this weekend, says in a video shared from Oldham Council’s Twitter account: “I’m here with a very important message.

“The last few months have been very hard for all of us.

“We have been unable to see our loved ones, do things that we enjoy and celebrate special occasions together.

“But we need to hold our nerve and stick to the COVID restrictions if we are to stay safe.

“The best way to stop the spread is to limit contact with other people.”

Ali, a right-handed batsman, then tells Oldham residents not to have visitors in their homes and “if you must meet people from outside your household, please do so outdoors”.

The cricketer also encourages people to maintain social distancing and to wear a mask when visiting shops and when on public transport.

Ali says residents “with symptoms must isolate and book a test as soon as possible”.

He closes his message by saying: “If everyone does their bit, together we can protect ourselves, our friends and families and the wider community.

“By pulling together now we can be back doing the things we love sooner.”

Ali, a right-handed batsman, was speaking ahead of the Test match series against England, which is now under way.

Oldham, Pendle and Blackburn have managed to escape full local lockdowns, but strict new social distancing measures have been introduced following a spike in coronavirus cases.

Different households can no longer meet with each other in the three areas in any setting, including in parks and beer gardens.

The changes came into force at midnight.

The area’s are England’s worst-hit coronavirus hotspots, according to the watchlist.

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