Local lockdowns where coronavirus returns ‘unenforceable’, mayors warn, raising fears workers will be sacked

Northwest is the most likely to see restrictions reimposed – but local leaders protest they lack powers and money

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Sunday 07 June 2020 12:40
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Manchester mayor Andy Burnham warns staff told to isolate will be sacked

Local lockdowns where the epidemic is returning will be “unenforceable”, two northwest mayors are warning – also raising fears that workers told to isolate will be sacked.

The region is the most likely to see coronavirus restrictions reimposed – after one study put the R reproduction rate above 1 – but local leaders are protesting they lack the powers and the money.

Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, and Steve Rotheram, his equivalent in Merseyside, also highlighted the plight of lower-paid staff told to stay off work by the new test and trace system.

“It won’t work if people receive messages from the system and they simply can’t take time off work, because they don’t have access to that funding,” Mr Burnham said.

“And we are also worried that some employers, particularly people who are in very insecure work, might threaten to sack them if they were to do that.”

Statutory sick pay for all was a better solution then local lockdowns, which were “simply unenforceable”, Mr Burnham suggested.

Mr Rotheram accused the government of making policy by “soundbite”, pointing to problems on the border with Wales – or if Manchester was locked down again, but not Liverpool.

Local council and health chiefs say they have been given no information on how a local lockdown would work, given how staff and others cross authority boundaries on a daily basis.

They are also unclear who would make such decisions, with town halls or perhaps the new national Joint Biosecurity Centre charged with issuing instructions.

Mr Burnham described the Public Health England analysis of a northwest R rate above 1 – contradicted by other studies – as a “significant development”, but said it was “important not to overreact”.

He criticised the “major mistake” made in allowing people to again travel any distance to exercise, including to tourism hotspots, suggestions the ban should be reimposed.

Calling for all staff forced to isolate to retain full pay, Mr Burnham said: “This represents a better approach than talk of local lockdowns.

“We have serious concerns about that and some of our council leaders think that the whole concept is simply unenforceable.”

If the government was “determined to proceed with this policy”, there would need to be “local furlough schemes” and protection for the self-employed, including taxi drivers and delivery drivers.

Mr Burnham highlighted how a Unison survey found that 80 per cent of care staff feared they would be paid if they isolated, adding: “That cannot be right – that needs to be addressed urgently.”

The two mayors also criticised their exclusion from the Cobra emergency committee, which was open to leaders in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London.

“That can't carry on. If we are going to have decisions being taken that affect the regions, surely the voice of the English regions should be represented there?” he told BBC Breakfast.

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