Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced Greater Manchester must STAY under the tightest Tier 3 restrictions for at least the next two weeks, despite huge drops in cases of coronavirus across the city region.
It means pubs, restaurants and all hospitality must remain closed across the ten boroughs of the region at what would normally be their busiest time of the year over the Christmas and new year period.
Hopes had been high among city leaders that Manchester could be downgraded from the “Very High” alert level of Tier 3 to “High” Tier 2 after a significant drop in the number of coronavirus rates across the region.
It would have meant hospitality businesses like hotels, restaurants and pubs serving food would be able to reopen in time for Christmas.
But after the first formal review of the tiering system that has been in force for the past two weeks in the UK, Mr Hancock told the Commons that “worrying rises” in cases across other areas of the country including London meant it was not possible to loosen restrictions in most places until the new year at the earliest – and some more places will enter Tier 3 this weekend.
“We’ve come so far – we mustn’t blow it now,” he told The Commons.
Mr Hancock confirmed that the highest band of restrictions will come into force from 12:01am on Saturday morning in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Peterborough, and the whole of Hertfordshire and Surrey (with the exception of Waverley).
Also going into Tier 3 will be Hastings and Rother on the Kent border of East Sussex and Portsmouth, Gosport and Havant in Hampshire.
The “vast majority” of places in Tier 3 will stay there, and there was no mention at all of Greater Manchester or the North.
Those going from Tier 3 to Tier 2 are Bristol and North Somerset on Saturday. Herefordshire is going from Tier 2 to Tier 1.
NHS chiefs have been urging government to exercise “extreme caution” ahead of the planned relaxation of restrictions for five days over Christmas which mean that in England up to three households will be allowed to meet indoors for Christmas get togethers – amid fears of a third wave of coronavirus.
Daily infections of the virus are up 50 per cent nationally with another 25,000 cases in the last 24 hours, and deaths have also risen by 14 per cent week-on-week.
The tier announcement comes a day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged the nation to have a Merry LITTLE Christmas and limit the numbers of people you celebrate the festive season with as well as the amount of time you spend with people outside of your household.
At the time, Mr Johnson said: “The situation is worse, more challenging than we first hoped. We are collectively, across the UK, asking YOU to think hard and in detail on the days ahead about whether you can do more to protect yourself and others. We all want to send the same message, a smaller Christmas is going to be a safer Christmas and a shorter Christmas is a safer Christmas. It’s going to be safest to minimise the people you meet.”
The Prime Minister urged everybody to minimise the number of people you are in contact with in the five days before Christmas, and if possible NOT to travel from a high prevalence area to lower prevalence area. He also asked people to avoid big crowds at Boxing Day sales – and to delay seeing elderly relatives until they’ve been vaccinated.
He said: “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas and I’m afraid I do mean this year little. But with the vaccine and other measures we do know that things will be better by Easter, and I’m sure Christmas next year will be as usual as normal for every family.”
Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, also sent a message on Christmas to: “Keep it small, keep it short, keep it local, think of the vulnerable, and that way we can reduce the risk of Christmas.”
What are the Tier 3 rules?
Tier 3 is classed as a very high alert area – and it means there is to be no mixing of households indoors, or most outdoor places, apart from support bubbles. You can still meet in a group of a maximum of six people in some outdoor public settings – like a park, sports courts or public gardens.
Hospitality must remain CLOSED – with the exception of sales by takeaway, drive-thru or delivery. Hotels must also close, except for limited exceptions such as work purposes.
All retail settings and personal care services can open.
Residents in a Tier 3 area must avoid travelling outside of the area unless for essential reasons, eg, work, medical care, education or for care responsibilities. No overnight stays are permitted outside of the local area unless necessary for work or education.
Weddings and civil partnerships can go ahead with 15 guests, funerals with up to 30, but wedding receptions are not permitted.
Gyms can reopen – but group exercise and sports indoors should NOT take place unless with household or bubble. Organised activities for elite sports, under-18s and disabled people can continue.
Reaction from Greater Manchester
“I am disappointed in today’s decision to keep Greater Manchester in Tier 3,” said Sacha Lord, Night Time Economy Adviser for Greater Manchester.
“We had an extremely strong argument to be moved into Tier 2, with lowering infection rates across the region, however yet again we are stuck in limbo with no clear guidance on how to escape.
“I’m gutted not only for hospitality operators across Greater Manchester, but for those across all regions who have been moved or resigned to stay in Tier 3.
“Together with greater financial aid to prevent these businesses going under, I continue to call on the Government to show us the evidence that merits their closure.
“Christmas is the busiest time of year for everyone who works in food and beverage. Not just the bars and restaurants but suppliers, security staff, musicians and hundreds of thousands of others. They now face a Christmas of upset, worry and stress.
“The health and safety of the public must come first, but the closure of pubs, restaurants and bars will not stop the virus spreading. It only serves to push people to socialise indoors, where there are no Covid regulations, no hourly cleaning policies, no social distancing.
“Looking at the current evidence, the closure of hospitality could in fact result in more infections.”