LONDON (AP) — Wales on Monday became the second nation in the United Kingdom to lock down large swathes of its economy to combat rising coronavirus infections, but British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is resisting loud calls to do the same throughout England.
Wales' First Minister Mark Drakeford said his administration was backing a short, sharp “firebreak” to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Northern Ireland has already ordered schools to close for the next two weeks, banned most social gatherings and shut down many businesses including bars and restaurants for a month.
The Welsh decision came as officials in Greater Manchester kept rejecting efforts by Johnson's Conservative government to move the region into the highest level of restrictions in the three-tier system Johnson unveiled a week ago. While the government’s scientific advisers have recommended a short national lockdown, Johnson says his tiered, regional approach limits the economic and social damages from the pandemic on areas where infection rates are lower.
Johnson’s government says the talks with authorities in Manchester must be completed Monday because the public health situation is deteriorating, but local officials are holding out for more financial assistance for those hurt by the restrictions.
Sean Fielding, a council leader in the Manchester area, told the BBC that local leaders are trying to protect residents from the government’s “untested” strategy. Fielding said he favors a short national lockdown instead.
“The logical solution, to me, seems to be to take the advice of your national scientific advisers, do the short-term circuit-breaker lockdown, which will be much less painful because it will be for a shorter period," he said. "It will be cheaper in the long run as well, because you will only have to provide that financial support for those few weeks whereas this could run on and on and on beyond Christmas.”
Talks between Greater Manchester officials and Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick went on all weekend and Johnson has threatened to impose the measures unilaterally if an agreement can’t be reached.
“We’ve set out the action that we think is appropriate, but we’re also willing to continue and have final discussions with council leaders and the mayor in Greater Manchester today to see if we can reach an amicable agreement, because we think that that is the most effective way of proceeding,” Jenrick told the BBC.
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham told Sky News that a deal was not just about the “size of the check.’’ Local officials want to protect low-paid workers, self-employed people and businesses that may collapse under the restrictions, he said.
“We’ve always said we would put people’s health first, and we will do that,” he said. “But health is about more than controlling the virus — people’s mental health, I think, is now pretty low given that we’ve been under restrictions here for three months already.”
Under the U.K.’s system of devolved government, the regional administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales control health policy in their areas and the U.K. government makes the rules for England.
Johnson’s three-tier strategy applies only to England, but he says he will coordinate with the devolved administrations in other parts of the U.K.
Britain has the deadliest coronavirus outbreak in Europe, with over 43,700 confirmed deaths.
Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak