London: The UK government came under increasing pressure on Friday as its three-tier COVID-19 lockdown faced backlash from some regions, even as Londoners prepared to move into Tier 2 high-risk category from Tier 1 medium level from midnight as part of efforts to control infection rates.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab accused the local authorities of Greater Manchester in northern England of holding the centre "over a barrel" after the region's mayor, Andy Burnham, refused a third-tier categorisation akin to a complete lockdown without additional funding support for local businesses.
"Ultimately we need to take action; we can't have a situation as we have seen in Manchester where Andy Burnham is effectively trying to hold the government over a barrel over money and politics," said Raab.
I would just urge Andy Burnham to do the right thing by the people of Manchester," the minister said.
However, Opposition Labour's Burnham has stood firm that being forced into the third tier without a substantial financial package would be disastrous for the local economy.
It's not about what we want for ourselves. It's about what we want for low-paid and self-employed people everywhere: fairness," Burnham tweeted in response.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tried to strike a conciliatory tone and said he would "much rather not impose things" but he was "concerned about what's happening in Manchester, where clearly the levels of infection are rising steeply, the levels of hospitalisation are rising steeply and we do need action."
Meanwhile, talks with another local authority, Lancashire, showed more progress as it agreed to be moved into the third tier of a strict lockdown.
The Department of Health and Social Care issued a statement to confirm that Lancashire, in north west England, will join Liverpool in the "very high" COVID-19 alert level from midnight on Friday.
It is understood that local leaders were convinced to accept the new restrictions by a multi-million-pound government support package.
Under the rules, people are banned from socialising with other households both indoors and in private gardens, while bars and pubs are closed unless they can operate as restaurants only.
In addition, casinos, bingo halls, bookmakers, betting shops, and soft play areas are expected to close, with decisions on gyms and hair salons taken on a case-by-case basis.
The "rule of six" applies to all gatherings outdoors and people are expected to avoid travelling outside the very-high alert level.
Earlier in the week, most of the country was on medium alert in Tier 1, which means subject to the national restrictions currently in force, including the rule of six on indoor and outdoor gatherings and 10 pm closing time for pubs, bars and restaurants.
However, now Tier 2 is the predominant setting with the addition of London, Essex, York, Elmbridge, Chesterfield and north-east Derbyshire among others moving to high alert, which means an additional ban on different households mixing indoors and non-essential travel being discouraged.
The tussle between the centre and local authorities has been ongoing since the three-tier system came in force for England earlier this week. The Opposition Labour Party continues to demand a few weeks of a complete circuit breaker lockdown and with the different regions of the United Kingdom allowed to set their own lockdown levels, Northern Ireland has opted for the circuit breaker for four weeks from Friday.
Tougher restrictions on movement and gatherings are also in place in Scotland and Wales, which has additionally imposed a travel ban on people entering the region from COVID hotspots of England.
All the changes now mean that millions of people across the UK are under varying forms of lockdown, as a further 18,980 coronavirus cases and 138 deaths within 28 days of a positive test were reported across the UK