The government has performed another U-turn and reversed plans to ease local lockdowns in Greater Manchester.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said following a “significant change” in the level of coronavirus infection rates in the last few days, Bolton and Trafford would remain under existing restrictions.
It came after Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said easing the guidance restricting social gatherings in people’s homes would be “completely illogical”.
And it came after the government overruled Trafford Council to lift the lockdown there, and was accused of pandering to Tory MPs with the plans to ease restrictions in certain areas.
It marks the government’s 12th policy U-turn since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and will only increase the pressure on Boris Johnson, who has been warned by his own MPs to “get a grip” and faces a crunch meeting of the 1922 committee of backbench Tories later on Wednesday.
The meeting will be hosted by 1922 chair Sir Graham Brady, who had backed the decision to ease the restrictions in his Altrincham and Sale West constituency in Trafford.
Tory MP for Bolton West Chris Green meanwhile said he was “disappointed” by the move.
Despite what I and local press understood, Bolton is being kept in local lockdown. I'm disappointed at how this important decision has been communicated because of the impact this will have on people's lives.— Chris Green (@CGreenUK) September 2, 2020
Earlier, work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey was forced to defend the government’s decision to lift restrictions in the two boroughs, and the swift reversal will increase anxiety among Tory MPs who are forced to defend policy only for it to be scrapped later.
At prime minister’s questions, Labour leader Keir Starmer said even Tory MPs have “run out of patience”.
He said: “It’s mess after mess, his own MPs, U-turn after U-turn, it’s a fundamental issue of competence, God knows what’s going on, there’s no grip. His own MPs are right aren’t they?”
Johnson responded by branding Starmer “captain hindsight”. On Tuesday, the PM acknowledged the string of U-turns but insisted the government was “on course”.
Hancock said the decision to reverse the planned easing of restrictions was made in collaboration with local leaders.
In a statement, he 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.
“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 government had decided social gatherings between two homes can resume for the first time in weeks from Wednesday in the two boroughs as well as Stockport, Burnley, Hyndburn and parts of Bradford, Calderdale and Kirklees.
But a sharp increase in the local infection rate in Bolton and Trafford led to council leaders pleading with the government for a delay just hours before restrictions were lifted.
The rate of new coronavirus cases in Bolton has jumped from 18.9 per 100,000 people in the seven days to August 20 to 66.6 in the seven days to August 31.
Similarly, the rate in Trafford has also risen, from 17.8 to 36.8.
A government source said: “So there’s been a huge increase - when the data changes, we act decisively.”
But a spokesperson for Starmer described Hancock’s handling of the local lockdowns as “utterly chaotic”.
They said: “The government does need to get a grip because, going into what is undoubtedly going to be a difficult period, if the government wants to give confidence to people to go back to work then, the government needs to have a much more competent approach to how it handles local restrictions.”
“At a time when the prime minister is saying we need an ounce of confidence to get the economy growing, when you see chaos like this it gives people no confidence in the Government’s approach.”
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner was also swift to attack the “shambolic” decision making.
U-turning on decision made overnight on lockdown restrictions in GM is no way to run a country. This is too important to be handled so incompetently,lives are at risk. Govt approach to managing&communicating lockdown restrictions in GM has been shambolic. https://t.co/pvQNkC7Zo5— 🌈 Angela Rayner 🌈 (@AngelaRayner) September 2, 2020
The decision to lift restrictions were last week backed by Brady, who told the Manchester Evening News last week that he found it “odd” for Trafford Council to object.
The MP for Altrincham and Sale West said he was left “unpersuaded” by the council for the need of an extension and asked for more data on hospital admissions and positive test rates.
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.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.