MPs in Greater Manchester, Lancashire and London have been invited to briefings with a government minister this morning – amid reports that both areas could be placed into a higher coronavirus tier.
Three ministers will hold calls with London MPs at 9.30am, followed by Lancashire MPs at 10.15 and Greater Manchester MPs at 10.45am.
Local leaders including Andy Burnham will also be speaking to the government after the Joint Biosecurity Centre recommended that Manchester and Lancashire should be moved to Tier 3, the highest alert level.
This would mean households can no longer mix indoors and outdoors – with pubs and bars forced to close unless they can operate as restaurants.
Last night, government figures stressed that no final decisions have been taken, but Sky’s political editor Beth Rigby says government sources are clear that numbers in Greater Manchester and Lancashire are “bad” and some action is needed.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock will deliver a statement to MPs in the Commons later this morning.
Speaking to Sky News ahead of that, business minister Nadhim Zahawi appeared to confirm that Manchester will be moved to Tier 3.
He told Kay Burley that the region’s MPs should attend this morning’s meeting “so they can hear directly from the chief medical officer, from the deputy chief medical officer, as to why we’re having to take this action”.
However, Mr Zahawi then appeared to backtrack somewhat, adding: “They need to see the data and of course that decision will be made jointly with the local leaders.”
The minister also apologised to two MPs – Labour’s Afzal Khan and Conservative William Wragg – who complained they had not been told about the talks.
He said decisions on increasing local restrictions were taken “with a heavy heart”, adding: “This is really difficult.
“It’s a balance between, effectively, two harms. The harm the virus is doing and the harm to the economy and also to health of having a national lockdown.
“The local lockdowns are the best way forward.”
At present, the Liverpool City Region is the only area that is subject to Tier 3 restrictions.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock is also going to address the Commons later today.
Meanwhile, it has been reported that London mayor Sadiq Khan has briefed local health officials about moving the capital into the Tier 2 “high” category.
On Tuesday, Mr Khan told Sky News that further restrictions in London were “inevitable” in the coming days as hospital admissions and infection rates are “going in the wrong direction”.
In a letter to the prime minister, he also warned new measures could possibly be needed as early as this week.
“None of us want more restrictions in London but given the increase in infection rates and the lack of testing we have little choice,” he wrote.
The reported changes could result in millions of people facing tighter restrictions in their day-to-day lives.
Greater Manchester’s mayor, Andy Burnham, has expressed exasperation with the government’s approach over recent days – claiming that some decisions affecting the North West have been communicated to the media first.
“We are expecting a further meeting with the PM’s team in the morning,” he tweeted.
In other developments, Northern Ireland is to enforce the toughest controls seen in the UK – with pubs and restaurants set to close for four weeks, and schools facing a two-week shutdown.
From 6pm on Friday, people from the UK’s coronavirus hotspots will also be banned from coming into Wales.
The Police Federation of England and Wales has described the new rule as “unenforceable”, while the UK government said it was “disappointed” by the move.
Mr Johnson remains desperate to avoid any form of national lockdown – despite demands from Labour for a temporary “circuit breaker” to break the train of transmission and stem the spread of the disease.