Stay close to home, millions in areas hit by Indian variant told

Covid Variants

Millions of people in Greater Manchester and Lancashire have been urged not to travel far and testing has increased to control the spread of the Indian variant.

The military will carry out door-to-door testing for councils that want it, an extension of a method that brought cases under control in Bolton.

Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, has backed the plan but demanded that ministers send more vaccines to the region.

Officials said that the measures were not a local lockdown and that people in the region were free to get on with their lives, but the government was advising them to be more cautious about social contact, given the high infection rate in the area.

The region’s 5.7 million people are being asked to meet others outside if possible, to keep two metres apart from people with whom they do not live and to minimise travel out of their area.

Yesterday 6,048 cases were reported nationally, and the seven-day average was up by 61 per cent in a week.

Ministers are trying to shift towards encouraging people to take responsibility for Covid risk rather than relying on public health law. The intervention in Manchester could form a blueprint for tackling surges elsewhere as formal restrictions are eased.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said: “We are providing a strengthened package of support based on what is working in Bolton to help Greater Manchester and Lancashire tackle the rise in the Delta [Indian] variant. This includes rapid response teams, putting in extra testing, military support and supervised in-school testing.”

He urged everyone in Greater Manchester and Lancashire to get a test. “We know that this approach can work. We have seen it work in south London and in Bolton in stopping a rise in the number of cases.”

Burnham said: “This is guidance, it is advice to the public. It is not a lockdown. It is not a ban.”

He said that the measures were “not about telling people to cancel their plans, it is about asking them to be careful in setting any new ones, to minimise non-essential travel and that is, in our view, a sensible approach given the rise in cases we have seen”.

People should be “more vigilant given the rise in cases” but it was “very important to keep a sense of proportion”, he added.

Unlike last year’s clashes between Burnham and Westminster over support for local restrictions, the mayor praised Hancock for working with the area. However, he urged ministers to accelerate immunisation. “Obviously what we’re seeing here is a localised approach to messaging, more localised support on testing and on tracing and isolation. We are also saying that should apply to vaccination,” he said.

Burnham said that giving the city its share of vaccine doses more quickly would “allow us to go further and faster in those areas where those case rates are highest”.

Given extra doses “we are very confident that we will have the tools we need to turn the rising cases around”, he said.

“And that’s not just about protecting Greater Manchester, it is of course about protecting the whole country from the wider spread of the Delta variant.”

Hospital admissions with Covid-19 in Greater Manchester have more than doubled in the past fortnight, with 78 admissions in the week up to June 6. Of the 131 people admitted, 31 were in intensive care.

Although the virus is predominantly affecting younger people, there has been a steady rise in the number of those aged over 60 being infected.

Sir Richard Leese, health lead for the Greater Manchester combined authority, said that this, combined with the overall rate, “does give us, of course, cause for quite serious concern”.

In the week ending June 3 the overall infection rate for Greater Manchester was 175 per 100,000 people, up from 110.8 per 100,000 people in the previous week. Nationwide infection rates are at 46 per 100,000.

Jenny Harries, head of the UK Health Security Agency, said: “This variant is now the dominant strain of this virus across the UK, with cases continuing to rise in some areas. The most important thing that people in these areas can do is remain cautious, work from home if possible and remember to practise hands-face-space and fresh air.

“Getting the vaccine gives a strong level of protection against this variant and I strongly recommend that everyone gets the jab when the NHS invites you — it will protect you and your loved ones.”