MILLIONS more northerners are poised to be plunged into the highest level of Covid restrictions as early as tomorrow.
Public health officials formally recommended that Greater Manchester and Lancashire be moved from Tier 2 to 3 at a meeting of the Gold Command today.
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The move will place the two regions on "very high" alert levels, with pubs forced to shut and households banned from mixing.
Boris Johnson will make the final decision whether to go ahead with it at a meeting of his top Covid ministerial committee on Thursday morning.
Sources said he is almost certain to impose Tier 3 on the two northern regions, which would add another 3.5 million people to the toughest restrictions.
Around 1.5 million people living in the Liverpool City region are already in Tier 3.
But the PM faces a major rebellion over the plans by northern leaders.
'WE DO NOT ACCEPT'
In a blistering attack on No10, Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said he would “not accept” Greater Manchester being placed into stricter Tier 3 lockdown.
In a joint statement with leaders from all 10 councils in Greater Manchester, he said: "We do not believe we should be put into Tier 3 for two reasons.
"First, the evidence does not currently support it.
"The rate of Covid infection in Greater Manchester is much lower, at 357.6 cases per 100,000, compared to Liverpool City Region which is in Tier 3 at 488.0 cases per 100,000.
The financial package accompanying Tier 3 is nowhere near sufficient to prevent severe hardship, widespread job losses and business failure."
"Plus our hospital admission rate is much lower than in (Liverpool City Region) as deputy CMO Jonathan Van-Tam highlighted in his press conference this week.
"Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust seven-day rolling average Covid patients in beds is at around the 225 mark and in Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust it's at the 100 mark.
"Second, the financial package accompanying Tier 3 is nowhere near sufficient to prevent severe hardship, widespread job losses and business failure."
Latest figures from Monday show there are 449.3 Covid cases per 100,000 in Greater Manchester and 423.4 cases per 100,000 in West Lancashire.
The change is expected to see 3,100 pubs and 475 gyms shut their doors.
And Leader of Manchester City CouncilSir Richard Leese has pushed back on the Government's top experts' decisions.
Sir Richard said this morning on Twitter: "I'm all for expert advice but after 7 months of Covid mismanagement maybe we need some new experts."
The local leader has pushed back strongly against closing pubs and bars, saying they are not the causing widespread outbreaks.
He said last week: "A lot of emphasis has been placed on pubs, bars and restaurants.
"The evidence in Manchester is that these are not major sources of transmission."
'WE MUST ACT NOW'
Adding pressure to the PM, Labour’s Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has said he would prefer a two week "circuit breaker" lockdown to Tier 3 restrictions which could crush businesses.
He warned putting the North into Tier Three restrictions over winter would “be a path to hardship for people, redundancies and business failure”
Both regions were placed under the Tier 2 lockdown bracket on Monday, meaning their Covid alert level is high.
Under Tier 2 rules, the regions are banned from mixing with other households indoors, while the "rule of six" still applies outside.
Mr Johnson rejected the idea of a 'circuit breaker' lockdown on Monday but said "we must act now" to stop infection levels in local areas continuing to spiral out of control.
The crucial test for putting an area into Tier 3 lockdowns is whether local NHS services will be quickly become overwhelmed to the point where they are unable to carry out other essential health checks and procedures.
Liverpool was placed under the highest level after hospital admissions took off, and this morning there were warnings intensive care units could have hit 95 per cent capacity.
Most areas who were previously under local lockdown rules were put into Tier 2 lockdown rules, including Nottinghamshire, East and West Cheshire.
London is currently at the medium level but could be moved to the "high" tier "as soon as this week" after 12 of its boroughs breached the threshold of 100 cases per 100,000 people.
The London mayor said yesterday it is inevitable that the capital will hit the "trigger point" and be given tougher rules in "the next few days".
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