Ministers have drafted in more help from the military and will provide extra testing and public health teams in parts of Greater Manchester and Lancashire after a surge in cases of the Delta coronavirus variant first identified in India.
It comes as new internal NHS data shared with The Independent reveals a rise in hospital admissions in the region, with 13 new Covid-19 patients admitted to Manchester hospitals by 8am on Tuesday.
The measures come as ministers decide whether to continue with the final end of social distancing rules, due to take place on 21 June.
While a growing number of experts have expressed caution over the spread of the Delta variant, many Tory backbenchers are pushing for a full reopening of the economy. It was reported last night that Chancellor Rishi Sunak is willing to accept a delay of up to four weeks in the lockdown exit plan.
Health secretary, Matt Hancock, said Tuesday’s new measures would include additional testing, as well as supervised in-school testing, and military support. He told MPs this approach had previously worked in south London and Bolton.
Ministers have also extended their “minimise travel” advice to include Greater Manchester and Lancashire.
And local directors of public health will be given discretion to reintroduce mandatory use of face coverings in communal areas in schools if they decide the measure is appropriate.
But the mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, called on ministers to go further and send more vaccines to the area.
“We are not asking for any more vaccine here than our fair share. What we are asking for is the bringing forward of Greater Manchester’s supplies, so that we can run a surge vaccination programme over the next three weeks,” he said.
He emphasised that the new system was “not a lockdown” but “advice”.
Across England, the latest official data shows there were 879 Covid-19 patients in hospital, with a total of 66 new admissions in the past 24 hours to Tuesday. Across the northwest, there are 246 Covid-19 patients in hospital, with 163 across Greater Manchester.
While admissions are rising, the number of hospital discharges – 101 in the past day – has meant the number of cases in hospital overall grew by just 19 in Tuesday’s figures.
Mr Hancock announced the enhanced support as he told MPs the government faces a “challenging decision” over whether or not to lift remaining lockdown restrictions across England on 21 June.
He also made an appeal to those living in Greater Manchester and Lancashire to get tested and to have a coronavirus vaccination as soon as they are eligible, “because that is our way out of this pandemic together”.
As part of the government recommendations, those in areas affected by a rise in cases of the variant first identified in India are being urged to meet outside rather than inside where possible, to maintain social distancing and to minimise travel in and out of affected regions.
The latest measures to try to halt the rise of the variant of coronavirus first identified in India will cover 10 per cent of England’s population.
Official statistics released yesterday showed just a tiny number of those in hospital with the Delta variant have had two doses of the vaccine.
The former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has suggested that any delay to England’s roadmap to lift lockdown would only last a couple of weeks, because of the success of the vaccination programme.
Mr Hancock told MPs: “We are providing a strengthened package of support, based on what’s happening in Bolton, to help Greater Manchester and Lancashire tackle the rise in the Delta variant that we are seeing there.
“This includes rapid response teams, putting in extra testing, military support and supervised in-school testing.”
“I want to encourage everyone in Manchester and Lancashire to get the tests on offer,” he added.
“We know that this approach can work. We’ve seen it work in south London and in Bolton in stopping a rise in the number of cases.
“This is the next stage of tackling the pandemic in Manchester and Lancashire, and of course it’s vital that people in these areas, as everywhere else, come forward and get the jab as soon as they are eligible because that is our way out of this pandemic together.”
The prime minister’s official spokesperson said: “We want to provide the package of support that has been effective in Bolton to a wider area … to tackle the cases of the Delta variant.”