Boris Johnson was roasted for ‘mess after mess’ in the coronavirus crisis today after the government performed another embarrassing U-turn on lockdowns.
Bolton and Trafford were among a series of areas in the North West due to see restrictions eased today.
But the move was abandoned at the 11th hour after a furious backlash from local politicians including Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, who said infection levels were still far too high.
As the dramatic volte face emerged, Mr Johnson was lashed by Keir Starmer at PMQs for ‘making it up as he goes along’.
‘It’s mess after mess… U-turn after U-turn, it’s a fundamental issue of competence,’ the Labour leader raged.
‘God knows what’s going on, there’s no grip.’
But a clearly stung PM retorted by branding Sir Keir ‘Captain Hindsight’.
Announcing the latest abrupt change of heart this afternoon, Health Secretary Matt 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.
‘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.’
Lockdowns are being lifted in some parts of the North West – but will now be kept in place in Bolton and Trafford
Boris Johnson (left) branded Keir Starmer (right) ‘Captain Hindsight’ after the Labour leader accused him of overseeing ‘mess after mess’ at PMQs today
Andy Burnham has blasted the ‘completely illogical’ lifting of local lockdowns across north-west England today
A chart shows the the different infection rates in each local authority area of Greater Manchester
It means hundreds of thousands of people in both areas will remain banned from mixing with people from other households, while businesses that were due to open – such as casinos – will need to remain closed.
Several areas in the North West will still come out of lockdown. They are Stockport, Burnley, Hyndburn and parts of Bradford, Calderdale and Kirklees.
Earlier, Greater Manchester Mayor Mr Burnham told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that people in Bolton and Trafford should ‘continue to follow the guidance’ not to 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 said.
‘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.
‘These restrictions were always hard to explain to the public but they are completely illogical now.’
His comments echo those of Trafford Council leader Andrew Western, who blasted the ‘chaotic’ way local lockdowns had been handled and accused ministers of making a ‘purely political calculation’ to lift the restrictions even as cases rose.
It came after his counterpart in Bolton, the Tory councillor David Greenhalgh, insisted an ‘unforeseeable’ rise in infections meant it was necessary to keep the lockdown in place.
While the ban on mixing households has been lifted in many areas, they remain in others including Oldham, Pendle and Leicester.
Businesses opened elsewhere on August 15, such as casinos, bowling alleys and indoor concert venues, will also be allowed to reopen.
Meanwhile, a rise in cases in Scotland has seen new lockdowns introduced in Glasgow as well as in East Renfrewshire and West Dunbartonshire.
BOLTON’S INFECTION RATE: 18.2 per 100,000 people in week ending July 31; 31.2 per 100,000 people in week ending August 7; 25.6 per 100,000 people in week ending August 14; 18.4 per 100,000 people in week ending August 21; 44.9 per 100,000 people in week ending August 28; 56.4 per 100,000 people on September 1
Restrictions have been in place across much of the North West since July 15.
The request to maintain restrictions in Bolton was made following an emergency meeting between officials as the rate of new Covid-19 cases in Bolton surged over the weekend from 44.9 per 100,000 on Friday, to 56.4 per 100,000 yesterday.
Where are local lockdowns being lifted in the North West?
- Bradford (some areas)
- Calderdale and Kirklees
Meanwhile, Trafford recorded 170 new cases up to August 29, up from 53 the week before. Its current rate of new cases at 59 per 100,000 residents puts it among the highest in England.
Analysis showed that new cases in Bolton were spread across the borough and not limited to a single area, community, or place of work, said the council.
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, it added.
The government also faced calls from fellow Tories to keep restrictions in place in Trafford and Bolton before deciding to do so.
Conservative leader of Bolton Council, Councillor David Greenhalgh, said: ‘It is with a heavy heart that the cabinet and officer team have come to this decision and this will be incredibly disappointing for both residents and business owners.
‘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.’
Central Bolton was largely deserted yesterday morning amid tightened covid restrictions
Where are the new Scottish lockdowns?
From midnight tonight, lockdown measures will be introduced in the following areas:
Glasgow, West Dunbartonshire and East Renfrewshire.
Labour council leader Andrew Western earlier wrote to Matt Hancock to ‘urgently request clarity’ on the Government’s position on Trafford.
In his letter, Mr Western said: ‘Sadly I must highlight to you that Trafford has now returned to the Government’s own amber zone in terms of cases of 100,000 population, and now has a significantly higher rate of cases than some other Greater Manchester boroughs who are not due to see restrictions lifted tomorrow.
‘In short, this decision has caused chaos and confusion that not only impacts potentially on the health of my residents but on the likelihood of compliance in neighbouring boroughs that now have a lower infection rate than Trafford.
‘The proposed arrangements now make little sense.
‘The system has been undermined by the Government’s decision-making processes.’