Oldham may just have escaped a Leicester-style economic lockdown, believe senior local insiders, who are now holding their breath for an official announcement from the government.
The council – and Greater Manchester – had this week argued that instead of shutting pubs, restaurants and non-essential retail, stricter measures should be implemented around social mixing.
That would mean households not only banned from meeting in each other’s homes and indoor spaces, as is the case at the moment, but anywhere at all, including parks and beer gardens.
Several senior local figures said they were cautiously optimistic government would now adopt that strategy after a ‘gold’ level meeting of ministers this evening, although no official confirmation is currently due until tomorrow morning and they stressed the position may not yet be set in stone.
Local officials and politicians have been in tense negotiations with government over the borough’s Covid situation for several days.
After cases passed 100 per 100,000 last week, it is understood Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty had at that stage wanted a full lockdown, but Oldham asked for more time to reduce infection rates and ministers ultimately stuck with existing measures.
Cases have since begun to fall, but this week government was clear with the local authority that lockdown remained a possibility.
A taskforce of senior figures from the Cabinet Office, who have been visiting for the last couple of days, has been looking closely at the detail of how the virus is spreading in Oldham, as well as the targeted measures the council has been taking.
Latest figures show the seven-day average has now dropped below 80 cases per 100,000 and there is a hope that the trend can be maintained.
The Cabinet Office is subsequently said to have recommended against lockdown as a result of its inquiries.
But the local system has been holding its breath today as further high-level discussions have been held within government, including a meeting this morning with Matt Hancock and a further one tonight.
However there is increasing optimism tonight that Oldham may have earned another reprieve from full lockdown.
One senior Greater Manchester figure said they believed Oldham was poised for measures that were ‘not as harsh’ as a full Leicester-style lockdown, a move they said would be ‘welcomed’.
Another said things ‘look positive’ from the point of view of what Oldham council had been requesting, which was stricter measures around social mixing, but not a lockdown of businesses that has been viewed as potentially catastrophic among the authorities here.
Both the council and Greater Manchester have been strongly arguing against the idea of a Leicester-style economic lockdown, arguing it would cause huge hardship in a borough with high levels of deprivation, while not tackling the fundamental issue of spread between households.
However ministers have been considering Oldham in the context of other areas too, including high infection rates in Blackburn with Darwen and Pendle, along with rising numbers in places such as Manchester and Birmingham.
Manchester is now less than one percent off the government’s ‘red’ threshold of 50 cases per 100,000, at which point ministers start looking at more draconian interventions.
It is unclear whether any decision will emerge tonight, but the government is widely expected to announce its final conclusion tomorrow morning.