Coronavirus: ‘No socialising’ rules in parts of North West

Oldham scene

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Oldham, along with other parts of northern England, has extra restrictions in place

Stricter new measures designed to stop the spread of coronavirus in the North West have been branded “confusing”.

Residents in Oldham and parts of Blackburn and Pendle have been told not to socialise with other households.

Local council leaders said it was “unclear” how the rule would be implemented and policed and urged the government to issue detailed guidance.

Workplaces, childcare facilities and businesses, including pubs and restaurants, will remain open.

Under the new rules, introduced at midnight, residents are advised to only use public transport for essential travel.

Restaurants are advised to only cater for pre-booked customers, with a maximum of six people per table.

Residents can also attend the weddings, civil partnerships and funerals of members of their household and close family, with ceremonies limited to 20 people

Schools are still set to open from 1 September.

The new ban on socialising will apply to the following areas of Blackburn with Darwen: Audley & Queen’s Park, Bastwell & Daisyfield, Billinge & Beardwood, Blackburn Central, Little Harwood & Whitebirk, Roe Lee, Shear Brow & Corporation Park, Wensley Fold.

Areas in Blackburn with Darwen where extra restrictions have been lifted are: Blackburn South & Lower Darwen, Blackburn South East, Darwen East, Darwen South, Darwen West, Ewood, Livesey with Pleasington, Mill Hill & Moorgate, West Pennine

Restrictions in Pendle remain but the new socialising ban applies to the following areas: Whitefield, Walverden, Southfield, Bradley, Clover Hill, Brierfield, Marsden

The new guidelines were leaked to a local newspaper before the government’s official confirmation on Friday afternoon.

Sean Fielding, leader of Oldham Council, said it was looking to provide clarity to residents “because the announcement itself from the government wasn’t the smoothest”.

Mohammed Iqbal, leader of Pendle Council, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The government has announced these tightening restrictions for local people in my area, yet they have not issued any detailed guidance as to how it will operate, who will police it.

“So local people are actually more confused than they were on Thursday evening.”

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Shoppers, pictured here in Manchester, are seen as part of the economic recovery

On Saturday, Greater Manchester Police issued a social media post urging people not to call 999 or 101 for clarification about the measures.

However, the force were criticised on social media after they issued a fixed penalty notice to a homeowner who had hosted a child’s birthday party in a garden, attended by three families.

A police spokesman said: “This was one of several breaches of Covid-19 regulations that were publicised to demonstrate the breadth of incidents GMP have been called to in just one night.”

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said police were “in a no-win situation because sometimes they get criticised for not doing enough and then when they do enforce the measures they get criticism back”.

Changes in rules

Since July, the government has been introducing extra restrictions in parts of northern England after a spike in coronavirus cases.

The tighter rules will be removed in Wigan, Darwen and Rossendale on Wednesday after they recorded lower infection rates than other areas.

Residents in those towns will be required to follow national guidance, including social distancing and wearing a face covering where appropriate.

However, the extra restrictions will remain for the rest of Greater Manchester and East Lancashire, plus Preston, where gatherings of separate households are banned in most circumstances.

A government spokesman said the “sharp rise” in confirmed cases was partly due to a major increase in testing led by local councils.

He added the spike “continues to be due to social mixing between younger age groups of 20-39 year olds”.

Dr Sakthi Karunanithi, public health director at Lancashire County Council, said: “The vast majority – more than 80% – of coronavirus transmission (in the affected parts of Pendle and Blackburn) is as a result of households mixing.

“That’s why we are putting out a very clear message – do not socialise with people you don’t live with.”

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The new rules came into force in Oldham, and parts of Pendle and Blackburn on Saturday

Mohammed Khan, leader of Blackburn with Darwen Council, said the borough, which launched a local contact-tracing service earlier in August, would continue “our important work fighting this infection at a really local level”.

“We know that our residents have been making huge sacrifices and that businesses are struggling.

“We desperately needed to prevent the threat of a full, borough-wide lockdown as this would have been devastating.”

Mr Burnham said: “We have been able to keep businesses open in Oldham and that’s a significant victory for the council because they were worried about the fragility of the economy.

“So what we have got instead are more targeted measures… which are much better than going into a lockdown situation where businesses have to close.”

Celebrity promotion

Mr Burnham said there had been “a noticeable fall in cases this week” in Oldham and other parts of Greater Manchester.

“Fingers crossed, we can see more boroughs released from these measures soon.”

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Pakistan cricket captain Azhar Ali is among celebrities who will promote the new guidelines

Mr Fielding said Oldham Council had closed at least one pub since Friday for flouting the rules.

He said the council had also enlisted celebrities such as Pakistan cricket captain Azhar Ali, who is currently playing in a Test Match series against England, and The Inbetweeners actor James Buckley “to get the message out to communities that might listen to [them] rather than listen to me.”

“We are also doing some really targeted intervention in our most affected communities, and that includes things like door-to-door testing, using community leaders to get messages over.”

Earlier this week, the council shared a clip of Game Of Thrones actor James Cosmo warning residents that “lockdown is coming” unless they abide by guidelines.

Elsewhere, Birmingham has been added to the government’s watch list, and Northampton named an “area of intervention”.

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