Lockdown restrictions will be eased in northern England next week after a decrease in coronavirus cases, meaning more than one million people in parts of the region can mix again in different households.
In line with the rest of England, social gatherings can take place between two homes in Bolton, Stockport, Trafford, Burnley, and Hyndburn – and parts of Bradford, Calderdale, and Kirklees – from Wednesday.
Businesses and organisations including bowling alleys and indoor play areas – which opened elsewhere in England on 15 August – will also be permitted to open their doors.
The decision was made after local political leaders submitted their recommendations to the government’s Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC).
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “We’re seeing the positive results of our local approach, and are able to bring in increasingly targeted measures.
“It is vital we can maintain this good progress.”
He added: “I have every faith people across the country, especially in areas where we are seeing higher numbers of cases, will continue to play their part by following local rules, and self-isolating and requesting a free test as soon as they get any symptoms.”
During the week ending 20 August, COVID-19 cases per 100,000 decreased in Burnley from 52 to 24.6, in Bolton from 25.6 to 18.9, in Stockport from 23 to 15.1 and in Trafford from 27.1 to 17.8, official data from the Department of Health and Social Care showed.
The easing of restrictions in Bradford, Calderdale and Kirklees excludes the Bradford city area, the Keighley town area, Halifax, Dewsbury, and Batley.
People living in Manchester, Rochdale, Bury, Tameside, Salford, Preston, and Leicester will still not be able to visit others in their homes or gardens.
And residents in Oldham, and parts of Blackburn with Pendle, where infection rates are the highest in the country, are still banned from socialising with anyone outside their household anywhere.
Gary Hall, deputy chairman of the Lancashire Resilience Forum, which is leading the county’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, said: “If we continue on this path I am hopeful that all parts of Lancashire will have the remaining restrictions lifted soon, but this depends on people following the rules wherever they live in the county.”
However, council leaders in Trafford told the government that it has eased restrictions too early, following advice from its own director of public health.
Andrew Western, Labour leader of Trafford Council, said: “It is apparent that for all of their claims of working in collaboration with local authorities, the government has decided to overrule the council and lift restrictions in Trafford.
“This action by government makes a mockery of the claims of locally led decision-making and once again shows that local government is being ignored in spite of being on the front line of this crisis.”
:: Listen to the Daily podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker
Official government data released on Friday revealed the UK recorded 1,276 daily confirmed cases of COVID-19, compared with 1,522 a day earlier.
Thursday’s total was the highest daily count since 12 June.
A further nine people have also died with coronavirus.
Meanwhile, the latest R number range for the UK remains the same as last week at 0.9-1.1 – indicating that the rate of infection is most likely either broadly stable or slightly growing.
The R number is a measure of how many people on average each infected person transmits the virus to.
The latest growth rate for the whole of the country is between -2% and 1%, the government said, meaning the number of new infections is somewhere between shrinking by 2% and growing by 1% every day.