Greater Manchester has become the scene of one of the biggest political standoffs since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
On one side is the weight and force of Boris Johnson and his government. Ministers insist that, amid a huge second wave of coronavirus cases they say could overwhelm the region’s intensive beds by November 12, the area must go into a tier 3 lockdown.
On the other side is a handful of local leaders – led by Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham – who are refusing to agree to the new rules until the Treasury rolls out a stronger package of support for workers and businesses.
Accusing the government of treating Greater Manchester as a “sacrificial lamb”, they have demanded the government offer workers in tier 3 a furlough package covering 80% of their wages, and an improved compensation scheme for businesses.
On @MarrShow the Mayor mentioned that he had written to the Prime Minister and the other Party Leaders asking for their support to reach a fair level of support for people and businesses affected by covid restrictions.
You can read the letter here and at https://t.co/EMZWt0va9s pic.twitter.com/Dl9J5dNjsX
— Mayor Andy Burnham (@MayorofGM) October 18, 2020
It’s a stalemate that has rolled on for days now. While the government could impose a tier 3 lockdown without the support of local leaders, it has yet to take the plunge.
But what do people in Greater Manchester think of the current deadlock? Do they back the Labour mayor’s bid for a better deal for workers and businesses? Or do they fear what a delay to lockdown could mean for spiralling coronavirus cases in the area?
For 33-year-old Dan, who lives in Bury, it’s a no-brainer – Burnham is “absolutely” doing the right thing by standing up to the government.
“We were given extra restrictions months ago which were essentially tier 2,” he said. Despite this, coronavirus cases have rocketed to 385 cases per 100,000 of the population in the town, with 735 new infections recorded between October 9 and October 15.
“I just do not think there is much faith going around that shutting down restaurants and bars that have broken their backs to comply with every guideline is going to make an impact at this stage other than to destroy livelihoods,” Dan said.
These businesses have “pumped their savings” into making sure they meet the government’s Covid guidelines, he said. “If we absolutely must enter tier 3, then doing so without a suitable package will be the wall for many of them.
“These places have done their part while the government asked us all to buy them time to get Test and Trace up and running. They have wasted every single minute they were given and produced a shambolic mess that is only world-beating in its inadequacy.”
It feels like the UK is in a lockdown “merry-go-round”, the customer experience worker said.
“Yes, lockdown will reduce case numbers like last time – but then what? We reopen and case numbers rise.
“I don’t believe that tier 3 will have any more of a lasting impact than the first lockdown because the fundamental tools we need in order to build on a position of strength while infections are low are not fit for purpose.”
Tom Taylor, a 22-year-old graduate who lives in south Manchester, agrees that Greater Manchester must not be forced into a tier 3 lockdown without additional financial support.
“I think Manchester has had enough of the government using northern cities as guinea pigs,” he said.
“Either the government should provide adequate support for workers [in tier 3 areas] or there should be a national lockdown.”
In the case of an England-wide circuit breaker lockdown, the government must still put support for workers and businesses likely to be hit by a “stay at home” message at the forefront of its plans, Tom said.
He also rounded on the defence set out by the likes of Robert Jenrick and Michael Gove that a national lockdown would be unfair on areas with lower case numbers.
“We are in a second wave with cases rising across the UK,” he said. “If you are somewhere with low cases, would it not be beneficial to stop people travelling to your area?
“Of course funding needs to be provided to help workers if this was to happen.”
But not everyone takes the same stance. A quick search of social media reveals there are many seriously worried about how a delay in stricter restrictions in Greater Manchester could impact the number of cases – and deaths – in the region.
In a tweet, one Manchester resident accused Burnham of “acting like a trade union rep for Manchester at the detriment of potentially people dying”.
“Save our NHS and get us into tier 3 urgently,” he wrote. “Would it not make sense to allow MCR to go onto tier 3, then work with other mayors and councils to get a better deal for people and businesses?”
Responding to a video of Burnham setting out his argument, another woman wrote on Facebook: “What about people’s health, overwhelming the NHS etc? You are certainly not representing the views of many who reside in Greater Manchester.”
This is the stance the government has taken in trying to impose the strictest coronavirus rules in the region.
In a press conference on Friday, the prime minister threatened to go over Burnham’s head and put tier 3 rules in place “in order to protect Manchester’s hospitals and save the lives of Manchester’s residents”.
“On recent trends, in just over two weeks there will be more Covid patients in intensive care than at the peak of the first wave,” Johnson said, “so I urge the mayor to reconsider and engage constructively.
“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.”
But Burnham has accused the prime minister of exaggerating the number of cases in the region during the press conference, telling the BBC on Sunday that cases across Greater Manchester were only “up slightly”, while infections had fallen in the city of Manchester in recent days.
For Mollie Simpson – a final year university student in Manchester – it’s not just the physical effects of the coronavirus pandemic that the government should be focusing on.
She told HuffPost UK that imposing a tier 3 lockdown without offering additional mental health support could leave tens of thousands of students in the region in difficult circumstances.
Many students are already dealing with the effects of being away from home in the middle of a global pandemic, the 22-year said.
“I think students will feel isolated and trapped by a Manchester lockdown.
“Students’ first time away from home can be lonely and alienating as it is, without the additional stress factor of a forced lockdown meaning they can’t travel out of a high risk zone and go home.
“Coronavirus has spread like wildfire through university halls, morale feels low and students feel abandoned and unsure of the rules.”
Meanwhile, many students rely on part-time jobs that are likely to be slashed if the strictest lockdown restrictions are brought in, Mollie said. “A lot of my friends can’t afford to live here without working – if a full furlough package isn’t met, they could be left behind.”
She added: “I think delaying restrictions is necessary until Manchester is given the resources to safely protect its citizens through a full furlough scheme and much more mental health support.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.