Why Oldham could be close to lockdown and what impact it would have

OLDHAM, ENGLAND - AUGUST 13: Shopkeepers prepare to open a grocery shop in Oldham town centre on August 13, 2020 in Oldham, England. The town is on the brink of a local lockdown after a surge in coronavirus cases has left it the worst affected area in England. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)
Shopkeepers in Oldham, which is reportedly close to a local lockdown. (Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)

Oldham is reportedly at risk of going into lockdown amid concerns about its coronavirus infection rate.

Downing Street could order a shutdown as early as Thursday, according to reports.

However, local leaders are desperate to avoid this, saying it would be “catastrophic” for Oldham’s economy.

Here is what we know so far...

To view this content, you'll need to update your privacy settings.
Please click here to do so.

What is Oldham’s infection rate?

Figures for the seven days up to Saturday (15 August) show the area had an infection rate of 83.1 new cases per 100,000 people: the highest in the country.

However, this was actually down from 109.7 per 100,000 in the seven days to 8 August.

Furthermore, when Leicester’s lockdown was imposed on 29 June, it had an infection rate of 135 per 100,000.

So why is Oldham close to lockdown?

Oldham Council leader Sean Fielding said at a press conference on Wednesday: “We’ve had communication from government that it’s something that is genuinely being considered.

“It’s almost a frustration that the plans that we want to get on with delivering on – in order to bring the infection rate down in the way that we need to – we’re not running at full capacity with those because so much of our time has been spent having arguments with the government and others about how we are opposed to local lockdown and we think that it’s the wrong thing.

“So, it is very real. It is a very real threat for Oldham, make no mistake at all.”

What restrictions could be imposed?

The Guardian reported that ministers are expected to decide whether to order the closure of Oldham’s bars, restaurants and gyms.

It would be England’s first local lockdown since hospitality businesses were allowed to reopen last month.

OLDHAM, ENGLAND - AUGUST 13: A man wearing a face mask walks through Oldham town centre on August 13, 2020 in Oldham, England. The town is on the brink of a local lockdown after a surge in coronavirus cases has left it the worst affected area in England. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)
A man wearing a face mask in Oldham town centre last week. (Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)

Oldham is already subject to certain restrictions as part of regional rules imposed on Greater Manchester on 31 July.

The current rules mean people in Oldham are banned from visiting a friend or family member’s garden, where the risk of coronavirus transmission is slim, but are still allowed to drink inside a pub, where the risk of the infection spreading is higher.

What has the government said so far?

Health secretary Matt Hancock has not ruled a local lockdown in Oldham.

Hancock told Times Radio on Wednesday there is a “big challenge” in the town due to its number of coronavirus cases, warning “we will do what is necessary”.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock delivers a speech on the future of the NHS at the Royal College of Physicians in central London. (Photo by Jonathan Brady/PA Images via Getty Images)
Matt Hancock (Jonathan Brady/PA Images via Getty Images)

Why are local leaders opposed?

Cllr Fielding said a local lockdown would be “really, really catastrophic” for the area.

He argued it is “household transmission” driving infections in Oldham, as opposed to businesses. Meanwhile, there has been little increase in hospital admissions or deaths.

Cllr Fielding told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday: “We already have youth unemployment of 9.5%, and 15% of unemployment generally.

“So it would be really, really catastrophic for businesses and for the working-age population in Oldham if there were to be a local lockdown.”

Leicester’s lockdown was imposed at the end of June, forcing the closure of non-essential shops. This was before the widespread easing of restrictions in England on 4 July, meaning the reopening of businesses such as pubs, restaurants and hairdressers in the city was ultimately delayed until 3 August.

Cllr Fielding said an Oldham lockdown would be different to Leicester “because Leicester never really properly reopened”.

He added: “This could be hundreds of businesses that have made themselves COVID-secure, spent money in doing so, reopened, traded for a short time [and] being asked to close again.

“The likelihood is many of those having done all of that would simply not be able to reopen once the restrictions are lifted again.”

Coronavirus: what happened today

Click here to sign up to the latest news and information with our daily Catch-up newsletter