MANCHESTER leaders have demanded a shielding package to keep the vulnerable at home but avoid a Tier 3 lockdown.
MPs and city leaders are behind a push to let the city escape the toughest restrictions and shutting down businesses by keeping those most at-risk safe.
As the clock ticks down to the hard deadline set by the Government for Manchester to accept a deal on Tier 3 restrictions, leader of Manchester City Council Sir Richard Leese has backed an easier way out.
Sir Richard told the Telegraph: “Most people who test positive for the virus are not getting particularly ill. They are not the problem.”
He pointed to the fact the Brits most at risk were older people and those with other conditions including diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure or respiratory illnesses.
He said: “If this is the evidence, wouldn’t it be much better to have an effective shielding programme for those most at risk, rather than have a blanket business closure policy of dubious efficacy?”
Sir Richard has claimed the Government would only need to spend £14 million a month if the most vulnerable people are shielded – and businesses who would otherwise be crushed could avoid the tough rules.
He said the cost of this would be less than a fifth of the cost of supporting closed businesses throughout a devastating lockdown.
And senior Conservatives local to the Greater Manchester area have thrown their support behind their proposals.
Chairman of the powerful 1922 Committee and Tory MP for Altrincham and Sale West Sir Graham Brady said the suggestion should not be “dismissed out of hand”.
He said: “The fundamental point about Tier 3 is the proposals don’t appear to have any evidential basis.
“There is no reason to think that closing some pubs and bars would have a significant impact on the spread on the virus.”
And James Daly, Tory MP for Bury North said he was “extremely sympathetic” to the suggestion.
Tory MP for Bolton West Chris Green said: “I think this is a good direction of travel. Let’s keep our hospitality running up to Christmas and support people at home if they are deemed vulnerable.”
William Wragg, the Hazel Grove Tory MP, said the idea “has merit and should be properly considered”.
Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham is still in the midst of an almighty stand-off with Downing Street over further restrictions.
But even the Labour Mayor, who has called for a “circuit breaker” lockdown has said the package should be looked at “seriously”.
He said: “I have to say I am worried genuinely about the Tier 3 policy as it is developing because we have had briefings from very senior figures – the deputy chief medical officer – who said to us that for Tier 3 to have a chance you have to close a lot of things.
“The trouble with the way that the Government are pursuing this at the moment is that they are not funding local areas to support people through the closure of lots of things within their community, and that is a major flaw at the heart of this Tier 3 strategy as it develops.”
Boris Johnson has repeatedly rejected any suggestion of letting coronavirus “rip through” the country while trying to protect the vulnerable.
He has stressed there is no way to feasibly seal off the country’s most at-risk people in a humane way.
Local Manchester leaders will lock horns with the PM’s aides again this morning and try to thrash out an agreement ahead of the midday agreement set by Robert Jenrick last night.
If no agreement is reached, Mr Johnson is expected to force the city into Tier 3 lockdown without the consent of Mr Burnham.
Mr Jenrick said last night: “”There are now more Covid-19 patients in Greater Manchester hospitals than in the whole of the South-West and South-East combined.
“But unfortunately, despite recognising the gravity of the situation, local leaders have been so far unwilling to take the action that is required to get this situation under control.”
A Government spokesman refused to engage with Sir Richards idea, saying: “It would be completely wrong and unfair to try and lock up the elderly and vulnerable while allowing coronavirus to spread freely.
“It is also not practical, when so many people live with elderly relatives and when older people need carers to look after them.”