Sheffield, Leeds, Bradford, Kirklees and York could be next to face the strictest lockdown rules amid surging coronavirus infection rates.
The Yorkshire towns and cities may be in the firing line for Tier Three rules which ban people from socialising indoors or in gardens and can force pubs and gyms to close.
Yorkshire council bosses have been in talks with Government officials over the weekend after the region was spared the toughest rules last week, but one MP said they now seem ‘inevitable’.
The infection rate in Sheffield is up to 440 cases per 100,000 people which puts it almost on par with disaster-struck Manchester and St Helens in Merseyside, which is already in Tier Three. Manchester is expected to see the screw tightened by the end of the day after an almost week-long impasse between the local mayor, Andy Burnham, and the Government
Sheffield’s infection rate puts it just outside of the top 10 worst affected areas in the country and Leeds and Bradford also recorded more than 350 cases per 100,000 people in the week ending October 13, according to the Department of Health.
York and Kirklees have slightly lower rates – 260 and 281, respectively – but both are considerably higher than the national average (168) for the same period.
Enforcing Tier Three rules on the five areas of Yorkshire could come with a hefty bill of £54.4million if they are given the same per-person funding that the Liverpool area was.
Liverpool and Merseyside boroughs around it received at least £44m of extra Government cash when it went into the toughest lockdown, to support local businesses and boost test and trace. The sum worked out at around £27 per person for a combined population of some 1.6m people.
Council bosses in Kirklees are expected to meet today to discuss tougher lockdown rules and West Yorkshire officials will do the same this week.
Local authorities are taking bigger roles in controlling outbreaks in their areas now, with the Government describing negotiations rather than enforced rules.
This has caused friction in Manchester, where the Mayor Andy Burnham has so far refused the Tier Three measures put forward by central Government – Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week made an appeal to him on live TV to reconsider and accept the restrictions, making it clear that the Government would force them if it had to.
The Greater Manchester region is now set to be offered up to £100million to help its businesses cope with the effects of another lockdown.
AREAS WITH THE HIGHEST INFECTION RATES IN ENGLAND
Department of Health data, counting swab tests done between October 7 and October 13, shows the following 11 areas have the highest Covid-19 infection rates:
Ranked by rate of positive tests per 100,000 people:
- Nottingham – 844.4
- Knowsley, Merseyside – 700
- Liverpool – 670.4
- Burnley, Lancashire – 563.4
- West Lancashire – 485.5
- Pendle, Lancashire – 480.9
- Sefton, Merseyside – 470.7
- Blackburn with Darwen – 452.9
- Rochdale, Gtr Manchester – 448.7
- Manchester – 444.1
- St Helens, Merseyside – 444.1
- Sheffield – 439.8
- Leeds – 388.1
- Bradford – 352.9
- York – 280.6
- Kirklees – 261
Similar payments to authorities in Liverpool worked out at about £27.34 per head for the move to Tier Three, following another £4.35 per person in Tier Two.
Applying the same rules in Yorkshire could see the five areas get a total of £63.1m, of which £54.4 would come from the move to tightest restrictions.
Sheffield would get the biggest boost, with £14.1m for its half-a-million residents, followed by £12.9m for Leeds, £11.9 for Kirklees, £9.5m in Bradford and £5.7m in York.
The calculations do not include money that may already have been given to the local areas to support them in Tier Two.
No details of tighter rules have yet been ironed out for the areas, but Barry Sheerman, MP for Huddersfield in the Kirklees area, said he was not optimistic.
He said: ‘I still think it’s inevitable that we have a circuit breaker over the half term,’ The Mirror reported.
And York MP Rachael Maskell said she thought the current Tier Two rules would not be ‘sufficient’ to stop the virus.
Leeds was spared the tightest lockdown rules last week when council officials put out a statement on Friday after a meeting with the Government and said: ‘There was no discussion about moving to a higher alert level.
‘We share the Government’s concerns that rates are rising in our areas, and our number one priority is to take the most effective action possible to tackle the virus, protect people and save lives.
‘We repeated our call for more resources to implement effective local health measures to tackle the pandemic in our region, including local test and trace, community engagement, and more support for people to self-isolate.’
Officials from across Yorkshire issued the statement together and added: ‘The Government have asked us to meet them again early next week.
‘We see this as an opportunity to set out the effectiveness of local measures, what further resources are needed to support local teams and businesses, and to review the latest health data.’
Sheffield now has one of the highest infection rates in England at 439.8 positive coronavirus tests for every 100,000 people living in the area.
This is comparable with rates in Pendle, Sefton, Blackburn, Rochdale, Manchester and St Helens, all of which have case rates between 444 and 480.
All but Manchester and Rochdale are already in Tier Three, and those two are expected to follow suit within days amid wrangling between politicians and Downing Street.
Rates in Leeds (388.1), Bradford (352.9), York (280.6) and Kirklees (261) are lower but have risen sharply in the past month.
Public Health England data shows Leeds’s infection rate for October 11 was twice as high as it was on September 27 (170 to 340).
PHE’s numbers are different to the Department of Health’s – 340 compared to 440 for Sheffield, for example – because they account for a different time frame. They are released once per week and are not adjusted in real time, which makes them a less accurate measure of the current situation but the best data for comparisons over time.
Bradford’s rose 50 per cent during the same two weeks, while York’s tripled and Kirklees’s increased by around 87 per cent.
Warnings over rules in Yorkshire comes as Manchester’s Mayor Andy Burnham has been sent an ultimatum by Government ministers saying he must agree to a Tier Three lockdown today after days of wrangling.
The Labour mayor of the region has so far refused to accept the tightest lockdown rules for his residents, arguing that they will devastate local businesses and that they are being unfairly imposed in the North of England.
HOW MUCH MONEY COULD YORKSHIRE GET TO SUPPORT TIER 3?
When it went into Tier Three lockdown, Liverpool and the Merseyside boroughs surrounding it were given a total of £44million.
Local authorities received £30million to support local businesses and another £14million to boost testing and tracing in the worst-affected areas, the Financial Times reported.
Split over an estimated population of 1,608,950 people in Liverpool, Knowsley, St Helens, Wirral, Sefton and Halton this breaks down to £27.34 per person in the population.
By that metric, the areas in Yorkshire could receive £54.4million if they are pushed into Tier Three:
Possible Tier Three funding
But he now faces a decision between bringing them in on his own terms of having Downing Street force a lockdown on the area, which includes Manchester city, Oldham, Bolton, Trafford, Bury, Salford, Tameside, Stockport, Rochdale and Wigan.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick warned that talks had gone on ‘too long’ and the Government could force the issue as early as tomorrow unless the region accepts a package of funding to ease the impact, thought to be worth up to £100million.
The threat came after doctors voiced alarm that Manchester is at risk of running out of hospital beds for COVID, with the bitter standoff now having delayed a clampdown by days.
Haggling is also continuing with Nottingham and Yorkshire over the possibility of shifting to Tier Three, which could put a total of seven million people under heightened restrictions.
But along with the war of words with Mr Burnham and Labour, the wrangling is also at risk of tearing the Conservative Party apart – as local MPs including 1922 committee chair Sir Graham Brady dismiss the need for the highest levels of restrictions.
There was a brutal response from ‘Red Wall’ MPs on Tory WhatsApp groups after colleagues from Tier One sent a letter to Mr Burnham urging him to ‘engage’ with the Government’s regional approach in order to spare other areas ‘pain’.
The intervention – which many believe was orchestrated by Downing Street – sparked furious private rows about an ‘all-round shafting’, with one MP reportedly jibing at another: ‘You just want a promotion and you’re happy to throw colleagues under a bus to achieve it.’
In a round of interviews this morning, Mr Jenrick said: ‘I do think it is very clear that having now discussed this for well over a week this does now need to be brought to a conclusion.
‘I think everybody in Greater Manchester would agree with that.
‘So, I am hopeful that either today, or tomorrow, we will reach a conclusion, one way or the other.’
But Mr Burnham was still signalling defiance today, telling journalists: ‘It’s not about the size of the cheque, it’s about protecting low-paid workers, people who are self-employed and supporting businesses.’
Liverpool City Region received £30million in support for local businesses when it went into Tier Three, along with £14million for extra contact tracing capacity, and £7million when it entered Tier Two.
Adjusting the total package for the larger population in Manchester would give a figure of around £95million.
Although Mr Burnham has been pushing for furlough to be paid at 80 per cent rather than the two-thirds offered by the government, that is paid centrally and separate from the bailouts.