Wales locks down as COVID-19 cases spike; Manchester resists

LONDON (AP) — Wales yesterday became the second region in the United Kingdom (UK) 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 cafes 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 said his tiered, regional approach limits the economic and social damages from the pandemic on areas where infection rates are lower.

A sign is posted in the window of a cafe with Britain’s Big Ben reflected in the window in London, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. Photo: AP

Johnson’s government said the talks with authorities in Manchester must be completed because the public health situation is deteriorating, but local officials are holding out for more financial assistance for those hurt by the restrictions.

A council leader in the Manchester area Sean Fielding told the BBC that local leaders are trying to protect residents from the government’s “untested” strategy. Fielding said he favours a short national lockdown instead.

“The logical solution, to me, seems to be to take the advice of your national scientific advisors, 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 December.”

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.