Oldham, which had the highest infection rate in the UK last week, has avoided a full Leicester-style lockdown after arguing it would do little to reduce the spread of coronavirus and would cripple the economy and fuel racism.
Meanwhile, Wigan in Greater Manchester and Rossendale and Darwen in Lancashire are to be released from lockdown before the rest of the region from Wednesday as the government takes a “much more targeted approach” to managing outbreaks, local MPs have claimed.
Oldham, plus parts of Pendle and Blackburn, will be subject to “a more targeted intervention”, the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) said. From midnight on Saturday, residents in these three areas should not socialise with anyone from outside their household.
Residents will be advised to avoid using public transport except for essential travel, and the numbers of people who can attend weddings, civil partnerships and funerals should be limited to household members and close family and no more than 20 people.
Local restaurants will also be encouraged to halt walk-ins and only seat people who make reservations in advance, up to a maximum of six people a table.
“It does not prevent people from shopping, going to work or attending childcare settings including schools which open from 1 September. But it does mean any social activities indoors and outdoors can only be shared with people that you live with and in your immediate household,” the DHSC said.
Cases in Oldham reached 103.1 per 100,000 people during the week ending 13 August, with Blackburn and Pendle reaching 95.3 and 75.5 cases respectively.
“The sharp rise in cases is in part due to a major increase in testing led by local councils, but as the percentage of people testing positive is also increasing, local data suggests the increase continues to be due to social mixing between younger age groups of 20-39-year-olds,” the DHSC said.
James Grundy, the MP for Leigh in Wigan, said he had received a call from the health and social care secretary, Matt Hancock, on Friday morning to confirm the borough would be released from the “enhanced measures” that would continue to apply to the rest of Greater Manchester, and large swaths of Lancashire and West Yorkshire.
The move followed weeks of lobbying from Grundy and other Tory MPs in the affected regions.
Grundy said Hancock had agreed to a “more nuanced, tailored approach to dealing with outbreaks. What this means is that basically new measures will be put in place where there is an outbreak on a town-by-town basis, rather than locking down the whole borough.”
He said the measures would be taken on a ward-by-ward basis, in consultation with local authorities and local MPs.
Enhanced restrictions banning gatherings in homes and gardens remain in place in the rest of Greater Manchester, as well as Leicester; Bradford, Calderdale and Kirklees in West Yorkshire; and the following areas in Lancashire: Burnley, Hyndburn, Preston.
As expected, Birmingham was added to the government’s “watch list” as an area requiring “advanced support”, meaning it will benefit from additional testing, locally led contract tracing and targeted community engagement.
Cases of Covid-19 are rising quickly in the city, with 30.2 cases per 100,000 and the percentage of people testing positive up to 4.3%. More than half of cases in the last week had been within the 18-34 age demographic, the DHSC said.
Northampton has been designated an “area of intervention” following a marked increase in cases, with the local incidence rate hitting 125.1 per 100,000 people during the week ending 13 August. Local testing data and analysis from the Joint Biosecurity Centre shows this rise is almost solely down to an outbreak linked to the workforce at the Greencore Factory, where nearly 300 workers have tested positive.
The factory will close voluntarily from Friday, and employees and their direct households will be required to isolate at home for two weeks. Hancock is to introduce regulations to ensure that this self-isolation period is legally enforced. Anyone who leaves isolation prior to the two-week period ending without reasonable excuse will be subject to fines, the DHSC has said.
Slough has also been added as an area of concern after an increase in cases, with 22.8 people testing positive per 100,000.
The list of wards in Blackburn and Pendle subject to the new measures can be found here.
Across England, there has been a small increase in cases week on week, in the north-west, Yorkshire and the Humber and east Midlands. The government’s weekly surveillance report said cases increased from 5,763 to to 6,418 in week 33, based on data for between 10 August and 16 August 2020.