Pubs and bars will close for more than 1 million people in Lancashire after the region’s leaders reluctantly accepted the strictest tier 3 coronavirus restrictions in exchange for £42m in financial support.
The new measures will come into force at midnight on Friday. Casinos, betting shops, bingo centres and soft play will also close under the restrictions, the Guardian has been told.
The restrictions will apply in Burnley, Blackburn with Darwen, Blackpool, Chorley, Fylde, Hyndburn, Lancaster, Pendle, Preston, Ribble Valley, Rossendale, South Ribble, West Lancashire and Wyre. They will be reviewed after 14 days.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said: “An unrelenting rise in cases in Lancashire means we must act now, and we have worked intensively with local leaders to agree on additional restrictions. I know how heavy these additional challenges will weigh on everyday life for the people of Lancashire – but they are critical in bringing this virus under control.
“Without them, we risk the health of your loved ones, your most vulnerable, and your local NHS services. Now is the time to play your part, and we will make sure you are supported.”
It means Lancashire becomes only the second part of England to be placed under the “very high” level of coronavirus restrictions while other parts of northern England remain firmly opposed to the measures. It is understood that gyms and leisure centres will be allowed to remain open.
The region’s 15 councils will get £42m for businesses, the care sector and schools. One Lancashire leader said the government had made clear the tier 3 measures would be imposed with or without an agreement: “They said: ‘Either take it or we’re going to put you in tier 3 anyway.’ It’s not a joint decision. It’s their way or the highway.”
The government’s standoff with other northern leaders deepened when Andy Burnham, the Greater Manchester mayor, and Jamie Driscoll, the North of Tyne mayor, joined forces to oppose the imposition of tier 3 rules without significant additional financial support.
In a statement also signed by Steve Rotheram, the metro mayor of the Liverpool city region, whose 1.6 million residents went into tier 3 restrictions earlier this week, they said: “The government is claiming that the north is divided and only interested in getting what we can for our own region. That is simply not the case.
“We are all united in fighting for an 80% furlough scheme for all people affected by regional lockdowns, wherever they are in the country. Paying two-thirds of salaries will not be enough to protect the jobs of thousands – it should at least match the 80% that was available under furlough, with the minimum wage as the minimum support.
“The universal credit top up is not the answer. It doesn’t help everybody and takes weeks to come through. It will not prevent severe hardship for thousands of low paid workers before Christmas.
“But we won’t forget the self-employed and freelancers and other business who will be affected by these lockdowns, they also need support and we stand firm for those too. This is a fight for what is right.”
Downing Street could still unilaterally impose a lockdown but ministers believe the cooperation of local leaders is crucial to communicate and enforce the restrictions.
While there were reports that Johnson could announce tier 3 measures for the north-east of England and Lancashire on Friday afternoon, a deal for the north-east seemed further away than ever by mid-morning.
The Guardian understands that all seven leaders in the north-east, including Newcastle, Sunderland and Northumberland, have opposed the imposition of tier 3 rules that would close pubs, bars and other public venues.
One local leader said they had demanded a guarantee that no one would earn less than the minimum wage under the controversial new furlough scheme, which pays 67% of wages instead of the 80% in the original plan, and further support for businesses that are able to remain open but are severely disrupted by the lockdown.
The leaders said they had not had a meeting with government since Monday and heard nothing back since setting out their red lines. A government briefing to set out scientific evidence was scheduled for Thursday but was cancelled, it is understood.
Ian Mearns, the Labour MP for Gateshead, said it was “utter nonsense” to suggest the north-east was poised to accept tier 3 restrictions.
“The local leaders were supposed to have a meeting last night with government at 5pm but at 4.58pm it was cancelled. Nothing has been agreed and it’s utter nonsense to suggest it has,” he said.