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Manchester & Lancashire hit with new Covid rules to minimise travel in or out as Army scrambled amid India variant spike

GREATER Manchester and Lancashire have been hit with new travel rules as a huge vaccination surge is launched to combat spiralling Covid cases.

People are being told to “minimise” travel in and out of the two areas, which are experiencing the sharpest rise in infections in the country.

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The Army is poised to go into Greater Manchester to help with a huge vaccination drive[/caption]

The Army will be sent in to help with a huge new jabbing drive in a mirror of measures introduced in neighbouring Bolton last month.

Health secretary Matt Hancock announced the “strengthened package of support” for both council areas in the Commons today.

He said: “This includes rapid response teams, putting in extra testing, military support and supervised in-school testing.

“I want to encourage everyone in Manchester and Lancashire to get the tests on offer.

“We know that this approach can work, we’ve seen it work in south London and in Bolton in stopping a rise in the number of cases.

“This is the next stage of tackling the pandemic in Manchester and Lancashire and of course it’s vital that people in these areas, as everywhere else, come forward and get the jab as soon as they are eligible because that is our way out of this pandemic together.”

The PM’s spokesman added: “We want to provide the package of support that has been effective in Bolton, to a wider area.

Under the new rules people are urged to meet outside rather than at home and to keep two metres apart from those outside their household.

They should also “minimise travel in and out of affected areas” and keep working from home where possible.

Mask-wearing is also expected to be reintroduced in schools to help stop the spread of the virus among the young.

The new guidance is not legally binding and doesn’t mean the areas are being put back into a local lockdown.

It also applies in Bedford, Blackburn, Kirklees, Leicester, Hounslow, and North Tyneside.

Similar emergency measures have helped turn the tide in Bolton, which was the first major Indian variant hotspot in the country.

After an explosion in cases it has now got the outbreak under control and is now seeing a steady drop in new infections.

But the variant has already spread to neighbouring areas which are seeing skyrocketing numbers.


A huge jabbing effort in Bolton has helped bring the Indian variant back under control[/caption]

Salford, Stockport and Manchester are all in the top-five areas nationwide with the biggest rises in cases.

In all, eight of the city’s boroughs now number among the top 20 places in the UK with the highest infections.

Five of them have seen cases double week on week, although officials say that hasn’t yet translated into many more hospitalisations.

Local officials said even if the numbers admitted remain lower than during previous peaks, accident and emergency departments will still struggle to cope.

That’s because, as elsewhere across the country, Manchester’s hospitals are working flat out to clear the backlog caused by the pandemic.

One source told the MEN: “We will need fewer people to be ill before it starts to become a pressure.”

Another added that even a modest increase in Covid admissions would mean “business as usual slows down”.

Greater Manchester and Lancashire have so far been hit hardest by the Indian variant and include all of the top 10 areas for infections nationally.

The announcement comes amid reports that the Government is set to delay the June 21 unlocking by up to a month because of the rise in cases.

The Government could postpone Freedom Day until the start of the school summer holidays in late July after scientists presented Cabinet Ministers with a “downbeat” briefing laying bare the threat of the Indian variant.


Patrick Vallance pictured briefed ministers in the latest ‘downbeat’ meeting about lockdown easing[/caption]

Prof Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance reportedly produced “fairly grim” data yesterday that vaccines were not 100 per cent effective – and that the Indian “Delta” variant was spreading fast in large parts of Britain.

A Cabinet source told The Times they were braced for restrictions to stay in place for “between two weeks and a month” longer.

They said Mr Johnson would not be too bruised by the delay so long as lockdown was lifted before the start of the school holidays around July 23.

Postponing the grand reopening would allow all over-50s to be double-jabbed before the restraints are flung off, experts believe.

The PM will announce his final decision on June 14 and yesterday Downing Street assured there remains “nothing in the data” to warrant a delay.

But another cabinet source described the mood in Whitehall as “downbeat” and prepared Brits for disappointment next week.

They said: “We always said it was June 21 at the earliest. We may need another few weeks to let the effects of vaccination take hold.

“Doing a partial reopening would create confusion. People have planned on the basis of a full reopening. It’s important that the messaging is consistent.”

Environment Secretary George Eustice this morning confirmed that the threat of the Indian variant was the crucial factor swaying the decision.

But he dismissed the idea the situation was “grim” and hailed the vaccination drive.

He said: “The critical test is are people who have had the vaccine getting infected.

“There have been a couple of cases – not many – it’s encouraging and we’re obviously making good progress on the vaccination but it’s too early to say yet what we’ll do.”


Chris Witty presented the latest figures to ministers to discuss the possibility of continuing with the roadmap schedule[/caption]

Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he reckoned any delay would be a matter of weeks and won’t send summer plans up in smoke.

He told Sky News: “I am quite optimistic that we will have Freedom Day before the summer break.

“And because we know that two jabs is effective against the Delta Indian variant, if it does get put back from June 21st, my own hunch is that there’ll be a matter of weeks, rather than anything that will really interrupt people’s plans for the summer.”

Step 4 of the PM’s roadmap – the final phase – will end all legal restrictions on social contact.

In the weeks leading up to next Monday’s crunch decision about whether to press ahead scientists have been calling on the Government to rethink.

Mr Johnson last week said that critical data about whether vaccines were breaking the link between infections, hospitalisations and deaths was still “ambiguous”.

But The Times reports Prof Whitty and Sir Patrick have also now urged a rethink to the timetable amid concerns about the Indian “Delta variant”.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock yesterday revealed the mutation was now the dominant strain in 203 areas of Britain.

But in a ray of light, he said that from 12,383 Covid cases detected in the UK, 126 were admitted to hospital and 83 were unvaccinated.

He said: “The jabs are working, we have to keep coming forward to get them and that includes vitally that second jab which we know gives better protection against the Delta variant.”

The UK recorded 5,683 coronavirus cases yesterday, up 68 per cent in a week, and one death related to Covid.

Next Monday will also see Mr Johnson publish the long-awaited social distancing review that will unveil what life will look like post-lockdown.

Guidance on mask-wearing and working from home will also be released.

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