A local lockdown could prove “really catastrophic” for Oldham, the council leader has warned.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Labour councillor Sean Fielding urged ministers not to impose stricter measures in the Greater Manchester town, even though “raw numbers” are similar to those in Leicester when it was put into local lockdown.
He said: “We’re strongly making the case up here in Oldham that that would not be the right solution for the wave of the pandemic that we’re seeing.”
Figures for the seven days to August 15 show the town had a rate of 83.1 new cases per 100,000, down from 109.7 in the seven days to August 8, with 197 new cases.
Mr Fielding argued that “household transmission” is driving infections in Oldham, most cases are among the working-age population, and there has been little increase in hospital admissions or deaths.
He said: “We already have youth unemployment of 9.5% and 15% of unemployment generally so it would be really, really catastrophic for businesses and for the working-age population in Oldham if there were to be a local lockdown.
“It’s different to Leicester because Leicester never really properly reopened; this could be hundreds of businesses that have made themselves Covid-secure, spent money in doing so, reopened, traded for a short time, being asked to close again, and the likelihood is many of those having done all of that would simply not be able to reopen once the restrictions are lifted again.”
Save the Children said the town has the highest rate of child poverty in England and warned deprivation could soar if there is a local lockdown.
A spokesman for the charity, which is calling for a boost of £20 a week to the child element of Universal Credit and Child Tax Credit, said children in Oldham are six times more likely to be living in poverty than those in wealthier areas of the country.
Becca Lyon, head of UK child poverty at Save the Children, said: “Further local lockdowns could lead to more job losses and prevent families from going back to work, which will be devastating for children in Oldham, who are already the country’s poorest.
“Parents reeling from the effects of this pandemic already tell us they’re at breaking point and that they’re having to cut back on food and other essentials to get by. We can’t expect them to live this way for even longer without additional support.”
Speaking to BBC News on Wednesday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock did not rule out a local lockdown.
He said: “Places like Oldham, where we are now seeing the number of cases rise, we have to take the same localised approach, working very closely with the local council, and make sure we get both the messages to the public and also the rules right in place and the resources, like the testing resources, to get a grip on it in all the areas where there is an outbreak, including Oldham.”
Mr Hancock told Times Radio: “There is a big challenge in Oldham, the numbers are clear about that.
“We see from what’s happened in Leicester over the past few weeks that where we put a local lockdown in place it then has been effective and we have been able to announce yesterday that Leicester is coming out of most – not all – but most of the local lockdown measures because the numbers are under control.
“Obviously that has had a huge impact on the people of Leicester, including businesses, and of course I regret that, in the way I regret a huge amount of the impact of what we have had to do to tackle the virus.
“But we will do what is necessary and we will work very closely with the council, who have also got a really important part to play in this.”
The town is one of the parts of northern England where restrictions were brought in at the end of July to prevent households from mixing indoors.
Leaders in Oldham have urged residents to act to avoid a more severe lockdown and the council enlisted the help of Game Of Thrones actor James Cosmo, who recorded a video reminding people of the guidelines.
In it, he said: “Lockdown is coming if you don’t act now and follow the coronavirus guidelines.”