Was is it too soon to start relaxing rules on lockdown?

The decision to start easing lockdown restrictions came "too soon for the North", according to one regional mayor.

Sunday, 17th May 2020, 8:47 am

As people have been enjoying more freedom since the stay at home advice was relaxed on Wednesday, some have voiced fears it will lead to a spike in cases.

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has warned Boris Johnson he faces a “fracturing of national unity” if he ignores concerns of the regions in the coronavirus outbreak.

Mr Burnham said the Prime Minister had failed to inform civic leaders of his easing of the lockdown restrictions in advance – even though they were the ones who had to deal with demands on the transport system.

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Since the lockdown rules were changed on Wednesday, people have been allowed to travel as far as they like to go for a walk on the beach.

While the announcement came as cases of the disease were falling in the South East, Mr Burnham said that he believed it had come too soon for the North.

Writing in The Observer, he warned that without additional support for the regions, there was a danger of a “second spike” in the disease which could in turn pass back through the Midlands to London.

His intervention comes amid growing signs of unhappiness with Mr Johnson’s handling of the crisis in other parts of the country.

The devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have refused to follow Mr Johnson’s easing plan, while cities such as Liverpool have said they will not start re-opening schools next month as the Government wants.

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham thinks the lockdown changes came too soon for the North.

Mr Burnham said that despite having taken part in a call two weeks ago with Mr Johnson and eight other regional mayors, he was given no real notice of the measures announced last Sunday.

“On the eve of a new working week, the PM was on TV ‘actively encouraging’ a return to work. Even though that would clearly put more cars on roads and people on trams, no one in Government thought it important to tell the cities that would have to cope with that,” he said.

“The surprisingly permissive package might well be right for the South East, given the fall in cases there. But my gut feeling told me it was too soon for the North.

“Certainly, the abrupt dropping of the clear ‘stay at home’ message felt premature."

To prevent further divisions, he urged Mr Johnson to appoint West Midlands mayor Andy Street to represent the English regions on the Government’s Cobra civil contingencies committee.

“If the Government carries on in the same vein, expect to see an even greater fracturing of national unity. Different places will adopt their own messaging and policies,” he said.

“Nervousness in the north about the R number will see more councils adopt their own approach on schools, as Liverpool, Gateshead and Hartlepool are doing. Arguments will increase about funding.

“And if we don’t get the help we need, there is a risk of a second spike here which, in turn, will pass the infection back down the country through the Midlands to London.”