Coronavirus restrictions in Bolton and Trafford are to remain in place following a “significant change” in infection rates in both areas.
The U-turn from Health Secretary Matt Hancock came after council leaders in both boroughs had pleaded for the ban on two households mixing to be maintained.
Mr Hancock said: “Following a significant change in the level of infection rates over the last few days, a decision has been taken that Bolton and Trafford will now remain under existing restrictions.
Following a significant change in the level of infection over the last few days, Bolton and Trafford will remain under existing restrictions.
This decision has been made in collaboration with local leaders after reviewing the latest data.
More info: https://t.co/uBZRHmV8O7
— Department of Health and Social Care (@DHSCgovuk) September 2, 2020
“This decision has been made in collaboration with local leaders after reviewing the latest data.
“We continually monitor outbreaks across the country, and have seen infection rates increase more than three times in Bolton in under a week, and double in Trafford since the last review.
“We have always been clear we will take swift and decisive action where needed to contain outbreaks.
“We can bring the rates down if we continue to work together and I urge everyone to continue to play their part by following the rules – get tested if you have symptoms, self-isolate and practice social distancing.”
The statement was released by the Department of Health and Social Care shortly after midday on Wednesday, the point at which it said the restrictions had been due to be lifted in the two Greater Manchester boroughs.
However, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham was under the impression they had already been lifted overnight.
Before the U-turn was announced, Mr Burnham had described the decision to lift the restrictions as “completely illogical” while council leaders accused ministers of bowing to pressure from Tory MPs rather than listening to local health experts.
Bolton and Trafford had been set to join other parts of northern England in resuming social gatherings in two households for the first time in weeks, along with Stockport, Burnley, Hyndburn and parts of Bradford, Calderdale and Kirklees.
A spokesman for Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the decision was “utterly chaotic”.
Mr Burnham compared the Government’s weekly announcements on local restrictions as “like waiting for the white smoke out of the Vatican”.
He said: “National government sitting in Whitehall imposing decisions on local communities has got to stop, we can’t have that any more. It’s not working, it’s confusing people, it’s causing anger and resentment.
“In my view it’s local councils that need to be in the driving seat here, working then in consultation with the Government.”
He plans to submit a detailed “exit strategy” to the Government for Greater Manchester local authorities to move from “crude blanket restrictions” within weeks.
As part of his plans he wants a more targeted approach with local control of the test and trace system, more financial support for people to self-isolate and a lead role for local councils on decision making.
The Department for Health and Social Care said the latest data in Bolton showed the weekly infection rate was 66.6 per 100,000 people on August 30, compared with 18.9 between August 17 and 23, while in Trafford the rate was 36.8 per 100,000, up from 17.8.
Last week, council leaders in Trafford had recommended that restrictions be maintained to wait for more evidence of a sustained downward trend in positive cases but was opposed by one of the area’s MPs, Conservative Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers.
Bolton successfully appealed to the Government to bring Covid-19 restrictions in line with the rest of England, but Tory council leader David Greenhalgh backtracked on Tuesday after the surge in infection rate.
Mr Greenhalgh said: “Myself and colleagues realise than many people will be extremely frustrated and annoyed by this decision, but it would have been irresponsible not to recognise the unpredicted spike we have seen in Bolton which has seen the borough record the second highest increase in positive cases in the country.”
A spokeswoman for Trafford Council said: “We know that many residents and businesses were looking forward to taking advantage of the relaxation of restrictions but we are in this together and it is important we stick to to the guidance to bring the rates down again.”