Greater Manchester and Lancashire are to receive a “strengthened package of support” to tackle a rise in the Delta coronavirus variant, Matt Hancock has announced – with residents told to minimise travel.
Addressing the Commons, the health secretary said: “I can tell the House that today, working with local authorities, we are providing a strengthened package of support based on what is working in Bolton to help Greater Manchester and Lancashire tackle the rise in the Delta variant that we are seeing there.”
On the government’s website, the ‘minimise travel’ page has also been updated to include areas in Greater Manchester and Lancashire.
It states: “In the areas listed above, wherever possible, you should try to meet outside rather than inside where possible, keep two metres apart from people that you don’t live with (unless you have formed a support bubble with them) – this includes friends and family you don’t live with, minimise travel in and out of affected areas.”
The support package announced on Tuesday includes:
• Rapid response teams
• Extra testing
• Military support
• Supervised in-school testing
Mr Hancock told the Commons: “I want to encourage everyone in Manchester and Lancashire to get the tests on offer.
“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 and this is the next stage of tackling the pandemic in Manchester and in Lancashire.
“And of course, it is 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.”
Other areas where the new COVID-19 variant is spreading include Bedford, Blackburn with Darwen, Kirklees, Leicester, Hounslow and North Tyneside.
As with residents of Greater Manchester and Lancashire, people in the areas above are advised by the government to try and meet outside, keep two metres apart and minimise travel.
Individuals are also advised to continue to work from home if they can and to get tested twice a week.
Mr Hancock announced the update in the Commons after briefing the relevant MPs on Tuesday morning.
It comes less than two weeks before 21 June, the government’s proposed date for the next relaxation of restrictions.
Responding to the announcement made by Mr Hancock in the Commons, the PM’s official spokesman 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.”
At the weekend, Matt Hancock told Sky News the Indian variant of coronavirus makes the decision about lifting lockdown restrictions on 21 June “more difficult”.
The new COVID-19 variant, also known as the Delta variant, is 40% more transmissible than the Kent (Alpha) strain, the health secretary said, leaving the easing of social distancing in the balance for the original target date.
It comes as government figures released on Tuesday show nearly a third of secondary school pupils in Bolton were absent for COVID-related reasons on the week before half-term.
In the North West of England, Covid-19 related pupil absence was 4% on May 27, compared to the national average of 1.8%, according to the statistics,
This was predominantly due to an increase in cases of coronavirus in Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen, the Department for Education (DfE) analysis said.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt considering further public spending cut to boost tax giveaway in budget
Jeremy Hunt is considering a last minute further cut to public spending to boost the tax giveaway in Wednesday’s budget.
The Politics At Jack And Sam’s podcast, out now, set out how Number 10 and 11 have spent recent days finding as many different ways of raising future revenue as possible to increase the size of Wednesday’s tax cuts.
National insurance could be cut by 2p again in the budget if the chancellor succeeds in finding the right mix of revenue raising measures and spending cuts.
Currently spending is due to rise 1% above inflation after next year. However, if this was cut to 0.75% above inflation, that would raise £5-6bn.
The chancellor would hope to resist questions about where he would cut, saying he is doing an efficiency drive and decisions would be outlined at a future spending review post election.
The decision on whether to cut future spending was live in the Treasury as recently as Friday, and this morning the chancellor was arguing about the importance of finding efficiencies.
This is likely to boost Labour’s charge that the government is “maxing out the credit card” to keep its own supporters on side.
However, most Tories in government believe this is a necessary trade-off to allow the party to go into the next election presenting themselves as the low-tax party.
Some senior Tories disagree, however, worrying that the public is more worried about the state of public services than tax cuts.
The budget is likely to have cuts or the abolition of non-dom status, which could raise £2-3bn, plus other small loopholes closing generating a few hundred million in revenue.
The Politics At Jack And Sam’s Podcast also reveals how delaying Contaminated Blood compensation payouts has helped deliver tax cuts.
In January, the Treasury was worried those payments might reduce the amount the chancellor could spend before he reached the borrowing limits from his fiscal rules.
However, the inquiry will not report until later and the government is resisting calls for interim payouts.
Budget 2024: Unfunded tax cuts ‘deeply unconservative’, says Jeremy Hunt
The chancellor has played down expectations of tax cuts in Wednesday’s budget, telling Sky News his spending plans will be “prudent and responsible”.
Speaking to Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips, the cabinet minister it would be “deeply unconservative” to take decisions that were unfunded and increased borrowing.
Jeremy Hunt is under pressure to deliver tax cuts in what could be the last economic set piece from the Conservatives before the next general election, which is widely expected in the autumn.
The tax burden is reaching record levels, with it expected to rise to its highest point since the Second World War before the end of this decade as the country looks to pay back heavy borrowing used to support people through the COVID-19 pandemic and the energy price spike in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Mr Hunt said: “It’s going to be a prudent and responsible budget for long-term growth.
“And when it comes to tax cuts, I do believe that if you look around the world, countries with lower tax tend to grow faster like North America, Asia.
“And so I do think in the long run, we want to move back to being a lower taxed, more lightly regulated economy.
“But it would be deeply unconservative to cut taxes in a way that increased borrowing…
“If I think of the great tax cutting budgets of the past – Nigel Lawson’s budget in 1988 – the reason that was so significant is because those cuts were permanent and people need to know that these are tax cuts you can really afford.
“So it will be responsible and everything I do will be affordable.”
Mr Hunt described the 2p cut to national insurance at the autumn statement as a “turning point”.
He said: “All conservatives believe that the state has a moral duty to leave as much money in people’s pockets as possible because it belongs to the people who earn that money.
“But we all know that it is not conservative to cut taxes, for example, by increasing borrowing because then you are just passing on the bill to future generations.
“So what you saw in the autumn statement was a turning point, when we cut 2p off the national insurance rate.
“We will hope to make some progress on that journey but we are going to do so in a responsible way.”
Mr Hunt’s comments come after he announced an £800m package of technology reforms designed to free up time for frontline public service workers.
Under the move, police will use drones to assess incidents such as traffic collisions and artificial intelligence will be deployed to cut MRI scan times by a third.
The Treasury said the changes have the potential to deliver £1.8bn worth of benefits to public sector productivity by 2029.
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