Lockdown restrictions have been lifted across north-west England today, but local leaders have urged people in Bolton and Trafford to ignore the Government and continue the measures amid a surge in cases.
Bolton has one of the highest Covid-19 infection rates in England, jumping from 18.4 cases per 100,000 people to 59.1 in just seven days to August 29.
It is five times the national average and is nearly treble the threshold used by the Government to introduce quarantines on foreign travellers.
The rate in Trafford has risen from 19.4 to 35.4, with 84 new cases.
Yet, the Government has allowed people in the towns to meet indoors again from today, while casinos, bowling alleys and indoor concert venues – which opened across the UK on August 15 – can also reopen.
The measures have also been lifted in Stockport, Burnley, Hyndburn and parts of Bradford, Calderdale and Kirklees.
Restrictions on mixing households remain in place in other areas, including Blackburn, Oldham, Pendle, and Leicester.
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said the easing of restrictions in Bolton and Trafford was ‘completely illogical’.
He told residents in both towns to ‘continue to follow the guidance’ and not have social gatherings in their home.
‘We find ourselves at a completely unsustainable position this morning – that’s the politest way I can put it,’ he told the BBC.
‘Overnight we’ve had restrictions released in two boroughs where we’ve got a rising number of cases – in one case in the red zone.
‘And neighbouring boroughs are still under restrictions but with much lower numbers of cases.’
Analysis showed that new cases in Bolton were spread across the borough and not limited to a single area, community, or place of work.
Infections between different households appear to be the main cause of the spike with people aged 18-49 representing the overwhelming majority of new cases.
Council leader David Greenhalgh said: ‘We urged the Government to lift Bolton out of the additional restrictions at a time when infection rates were low.
‘This was the right decision at the time. However, there has been a sudden and unforeseeable rise in the number of coronavirus cases in Bolton.
‘We have always been led by the data, which means we have no choice but to act quickly to keep everyone safe.’
Any reversal in the plans would also mean that certain businesses, including those offering close contact services, will not reopen as planned.
Council leaders in Trafford had recommended that restrictions be maintained to wait for more evidence of a sustained downward trend in positive cases, but were overruled by the Government.
Labour leader Andrew Western has written to Health Secretary Matt Hancock to ‘urgently request clarity’ on the Government’s position on Trafford.
Mr Western said the decision has ‘caused chaos and confusion’, risking the health of his residents and the ‘likelihood of compliance in neighbouring boroughs that now have a lower infection rate than Trafford’.
He added he was ‘very disappointed’ that its representations to Government last week were ‘completely ignored’ along with ‘two of our three local MPs, two of our three opposition group leaders and our director of public health’.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘We are working closely with leaders and local authorities across Greater Manchester and Lancashire in response to the changing situation and we keep all local restrictions under constant consideration.’
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