Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has accused Boris Johnson of “exaggerating” the coronavirus situation in the region as he called for an end to the “war of words” between local leaders and ministers.
His comments came amid a stand-off between politicians in Greater Manchester and No 10 over the imposition of Tier 3 measures – the most severe restrictions – including the closure of all pubs and bars.
Mr Burnham has been calling for additional economic support for the region’s residents, but on Sunday Michael Gove risked inflaming tensions as he dismissed the concerns and accused him of political "posturing”.
“I want to reach an agreement with the political leadership in Greater Manchester,” the Cabinet Office minister told Sky News. “Instead of press conferences and posturing what we need is action to save people’s lives.”
Speaking at the Downing Street’s own press conference on Friday, the prime minister warned the region’s leaders the situation was “grave” and the government could impose the more draconian measures if talks were inconclusive.
Mr Johnson said the number of Covid in-patients in Greater Manchester’s intensive care unit beds was already over 40 per cent of the number at the height of the first wave of the virus, adding: “That number will inevitably rise further, given that hospitalisation occurs two-three weeks after infection.
“On present trends, in just over two weeks there will be more Covid patients in intensive care than at the peak of the first wave. I cannot stress enough – time is of the essence. Each day that passes before action is taken means more people will go to hospital, more people will end up in intensive care, and tragically more people will die.”
Speaking on BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, however, the mayor of Greater Manchester said: “It’s a serious situation but I don’t think it was the situation that was described by the prime minister on Friday evening.
“I think it was an exaggeration of the position that we’re in. Of course it’s a matter of concern, and we watch the figures very closely indeed, but the figures have been falling in Manchester itself in the last few days, across Greater Manchester up slightly but certainly not doubling every nine days.
“So let’s be careful here. I would certainly say this morning let’s step back a bit from a war of words.”
Despite the clash, Mr Burnham said he would speak to Sir Edward Lister, the prime minister’s senior adviser, later on Sunday, which Downing Street confirmed after the two sides struggled to arrange talks the day before.
Mr Burnham also pleaded with MPs at Westminster to intervene and ensure Tier 3 – the most severe level of restrictions – come with adequate financial support from the Treasury, similar to levels seen at the onset of the pandemic.
“Let’s move towards a resolution,” he said. “That’s why I’ll be writing to the Labour Party leaders in Westminster to ask them to intervene, for Parliament to intervene here.”
“This is of course everywhere’s concern because everywhere could end up in Tier 3 over the course of this winter.”