Boris Johnson is today preparing to force Greater Manchester into a Tier Three lockdown despite a furious rebellion from local leaders and Tory 'Red Wall' MPs.
Ministers have warned that the government will not be 'held over a barrel' by mayor Andy Burnham who has voiced opposition to the harshest level of curbs alongside a host of senior Conservatives.
In a vicious attack last night, Mr Burnham said the North was being treated like a 'sacrificial lamb' and a 'canary in the coalmine' with experimental restrictions, claiming that if London was in the same position there would be a nationwide clampdown.
Mr Johnson is also facing mounting pressure from his own SAGE experts to trigger a 'circuit breaker' squeeze across the country over half-term - with one scientist even suggesting the process might need to be repeated again and again until a vaccine becomes available.
There is mounting speculation the PM will put Greater Manchester on the Tier Three list regardless of Mr Burnham's stance.
Lancashire - the other area that the Joint Biosecurity Centre's 'Gold Command' agreed should be upgraded - could be plunged into the restrictions first to set an example, with local leaders admitting the move is 'inevitable' given high infection rates.
Talks to thrash out the details and support package for the county went late into the night and are set to resume this morning.
A Tier Three lockdown would see all bars and pubs who do not serve meals shut - as well as a ban on household mixing indoors and in gardens.
In a round of broadcast interviews this morning, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab insisted the government would rather vote with local leaders 'if possible'.
But he accused Mr Burnham of trying to 'hold the Government over a barrel' by resisting tougher coronavirus restrictions.
'Ultimately we need to take action – we can't have a situation as we have seen in Manchester where Andy Burnham is effectively trying to hold the Government over a barrel over money and politics when actually we need to take action,' he told BBC Breakfast.
'The cases there are 470 per 100,000 so it is very serious, and we must take action in the interest of the people of Manchester and the wider area, and if we take those targeted actions in those areas most affected… we get through this and we avoid the national level lockdown.'
Mr Raab urged Mr Burnham to 'do the right thing by the people of Manchester'.
In other key developments today:SAGE member Professor Jeremy Farrar said the current base level of restrictions, which includes a 10pm curfew, were the 'worst of all worlds' as they inflicted economic damage while not going far enough to suppress the virus; Another SAGE adviser has suggested that a series of 'circuit breakers' could be needed, planned around school holidays, to get the outbreak under control; Wales is preparing to defy the PM by bringing in its own 'circuit breaker' lockdown - as an 'unenforceable' travel ban on English people from coronavirus hotspots travelling to Wales comes takes effect tonight; London is in its last day before Tier Two restrictions come into force, meaning around nine million people will be banned from mixing with other households indoors; Mr Raab said he took 'very seriously' allegations of a Russian disinformation campaign against the Oxford coronavirus vaccine, with pictures, memes and video clips depicting the British-made inoculation as dangerous.
Boris Johnson (left out running today) is preparing to put Greater Manchester on the Government's Tier Three list with or without Andy Burnham's go-ahead
A series of coronavirus 'circuit breakers' should be pencilled in around the school holidays, a senior Government official said last night.
Three weeks ago the Sage group of scientists advising ministers recommended a short lockdown to halt the rise in Covid-19 cases, which the Government chose not to follow.
But yesterday the senior government adviser argued for a 'whole series' of circuit breakers planned around when schools break up.
The idea is aimed at causing minimum disruption to schoolchildren while allowing families to plan ahead – although the cost of a temporary lockdown to the economy has been estimated at £2billion a day.
The expert, who did not want to be named, said: 'One of the things we think would be good would be to plan to have a whole series of these, probably placed around the school holidays so that they didn't disrupt education – or perhaps add a week to existing holidays.
'Tell people they're coming, so everybody can plan for them. And then if you don't need them well fine, we'll cancel them. It seems to us that one of the damages of lockdown is that they arrived right out of the blue.
'Now obviously, you would need to make sure people didn't all have massive parties the week before the circuit break came into being.'
Responding to Mr Raab on twitter today, Mr Burnham said: 'It's not about what we want for ourselves, @DominicRaab.
'It's about what we want for low-paid and self-employed people everywhere: fairness.'
In a worrying sign for the government, northern Tory MPs have lined up with Mr Burnham to condemn the plan for curbs.
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the powerful Tory backbench 1922 Committee and MP for Altrincham and Sale West, said: 'The case has not been made for Greater Manchester to move into a Tier Three lockdown.'
Fellow Tory William Wragg, MP for Hazel Grove in Manchester, said health ministers had 'achieved the impossible' by uniting local politicians of all parties against the government's plans.
Jake Berry, former minister for the Northern Powerhouse, and MP for Rossendale and Darwen, said many people in the region already 'don't know or understand what the rules are' because they are on the 'twentieth set of rules'.
Mr Berry pointed out that following last year's election triumph, the Tories now have 80 Northern MPs, adding: 'They are the Prime Minister's majority and, bluntly, he needs to look after us.'
The backlash was fueled by a 'sh**show' conference call between health minister Helen Whately and Greater Manchester MPs yesterday, while talks between the PM's senior aide Sir Eddie LIster and councillors went little better.
Ms Whately and Sir Edward couldn't answer how furloughed staff in the hospitality sector - those worst-hit by Tier Three - could access their benefits. They were also apparently unable to show MPs and leaders scientific evidence about Covid-19's transmission.
Labour's shadow foreign secretary and Wigan MP Lisa Nandy said: 'Despite repeated attempts to claim we're divided there was total unity from Conservative and Labour Greater Manchester MPs on the call with the minister this morning.
'We will support evidence based interventions with adequate financial support. We will not support this chaos.'
Placing large chunks of the North into Tier Three is central to the Prime Minister's plan to avoid a national circuit-breaker lockdown by targeting action at the areas with the highest infection rates.
On the other side of the argument, former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, whose Chingford and Woodford Green constituency is directly affected, said London was 'being used to stop the debate about the North-South divide'.
He urged ministers to 'look again' at the decision to put the whole capital into a form of lockdown when many boroughs were seeing relatively low cases.
Downing Street said the PM wanted to move forward with 'as much consensus as possible' but confirmed ministers do have the powers to force whole regions into the top tier.
However, ministers fear that if Labour sides with Tory rebels, the Government could be defeated in a confirmatory vote on the regulations, which would be needed next month to keep them in force.
Police chiefs have warned Mark Drakeford's plan to impose a travel ban on English visitors to Wales from coronavirus hotspots is 'unenforceable'.
The Welsh First Minister this week announced that he intends to prohibit entry to people from areas with high levels of Covid-19 if Boris Johnson fails to impose UK-wide travel restrictions.
But the Police Federation of England and Wales said 'policing in Wales is already over-stretched due to the pandemic' and the new measures would add 'yet another level of complexity to policing'.
The proposals have sparked a furious political backlash with Tory MPs labelling the move 'heavy handed and stupid' as they also accused Mr Drakeford of being 'guilty of small man syndrome'.
Meanwhile, Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said 'putting a border between England and Wales is unconstitutional' and warned it would put the police in an 'invidious position'.
Mr Drakeford defended his proposals this morning as he said police could use automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) technology to catch visitors from banned areas of the UK.
He also said holiday providers in Wales should not accept bookings from people in hotspot areas of the UK as he warned existing getaway plans 'will no longer be able to be honoured'.
It came as Nicola Sturgeon backed Mr Drakeford's call for nationwide travel restrictions on high incidence areas as she said she would not rule out imposing a Wales-style ban on visitors.
There are also fears that the row could undermine public confidence in the measures even if they are imposed.
Professor Clifford Stott, a scientific adviser to the government, warned that the stance adopted by Mr Burnham and others could sow confusion about the value of the restrictions.
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: 'Where you have got local leaders disputing the legitimacy of government measures it is creating the conditions where people are less likely to adhere.'
However, Professor Stott backed calls from Mr Burnham and others to put in more financial support, warning that some people would otherwise be unable to stick to the rules.
More of the government's own scientific advisers have continued to rail against the PM's approach.
SAGE member Professor Jeremy Farrar said the current base level of restrictions, which includes a 10pm curfew, were the 'worst of all worlds' as they inflicted economic damage while not going far enough to suppress the virus.
The director of the Wellcome Trust told the BBC's Newscast a short 'circuit-break' should have been introduced in September and implored ministers to 'act' as soon as possible.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van-Tam is understood to have backed the circuit-breaker plan - telling leaders in the North that a country-wide lockdown was the only strategy 'certain' to succeed.
Mr Burnham said the 'very least' he would accept was a full reinstatement of the furlough scheme paying 80 per cent of the wages of people unable to work because of the lockdown.
No 10 said talks with local leaders would continue today. So far only Liverpool City Region has agreed to go into Tier Three.
There had been widespread briefings overnight that the area would be shifted into the harshest Tier Three category along with Lancashire.
However, the mood shifted abruptly after health minister Ms Whately held what was branded a 'sh**show' conference call with local MPs.
Both Downing Street and the Treasury said there would be no advance on the new Job Support Scheme, which pays only two-thirds of wages.
No 10 said the lowest paid would receive almost 90 per cent of their normal income because they would be eligible for top ups from Universal Credit.
But Mr Burnham said he was ready to take legal action against ministers if they tried to impose the rules.
The Tory MPs' revolt came as Britain yesterday recorded 18,980 more coronavirus cases and 138 deaths.
Department of Health figures show daily infections have risen just eight per cent in a week from 17,540 last Thursday. Just 77 fatalities were declared last Thursday.
Although rising, the numbers are still a far cry from the darkest days of the first wave in the spring, when more than 100,000 Britons were catching the virus every day and at least 1,000 infected patients died daily.
Professor Jeremy Farrar, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said the current base level of restrictions, which includes a 10pm curfew, were the 'worst of all worlds' as they inflicted economic damage while not going far enough to suppress the virus.
The director of the Wellcome Trust told the BBC's Newscast podcast a short 'circuit-break' should have been introduced in September and implored ministers to 'act' as soon as possible.
He added that national restrictions were a better option – and making the row over the three-tier system a north-south or party political issue was 'a very dangerous route'.
Professor Farrar also said that countries had controlled Covid-19 well so far such as South Korea and New Zealand had a 'national consensus about the way forward'.
He added: 'I think we've got to come together as a country, this fragmentation, and frankly making this either a north-south or a party political issue, that's a very dangerous route to go on.
'What we don't want now is a fragmentation or confusion - one area or region or city pitched against another. I think that would be very, very damaging to public health and the country's ability to respond.'
At a press call in Manchester yesterday, Mr Burnham said: 'Greater Manchester, the Liverpool City region and Lancashire are being set up as the canaries in the coalmine for an experimental regional lockdown strategy as an attempt to prevent the expense of what is truly needed.
'The very least they should be offering the people of Greater Manchester who will be affected by these closures is a full and fair 80 per cent furlough for all affected workers, 80 per cent income support for people who are self-employed, and a proper compensation scheme for businesses. So far, they have not been prepared to offer that.'
Mr Burnham's retort led ministers to humiliatingly back off of plans to force a Manchester and Lancashire lockdown.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock had been expected to announce the Tier Three news in a Commons statement. Instead he merely told the House that 'discussions are ongoing'.
Speaking to reporters last night, Mr Hancock said: 'The situation in the North West is severe, the number of cases is rising exponentially, the number of people in hospital with covid has doubled in just the last 12 days.
'So I call upon local leaders to set aside this party politics and to work with us to put in place the measures that are needed in Greater Manchester, (and) across the North West, so we can deal with this virus and support people through it.'
He said now is 'a time for people to come together so that we can control this virus' and 'we must act'.
Mr Burnham said chief medical officer Chris Whitty had told him that a national lockdown was the only thing 'certain' to reduce coronavirus cases.
'But the Government told us this morning it is unwilling to do that because of the damage it will do to the national economy,' he said.
'And yet that is what they want to impose on the North West.
'So that was our conclusion from the Number 10 meeting this morning: they are willing to try and sacrifice jobs and businesses here to try and save them elsewhere.'
Earlier, Labour's Lucy Powell, who represents Manchester Central, said there was 'unanimous fury' among the politicians on the call with Ms Whately.
'We want action but it has to be the right action, because we've lived in Tier Two for nearly three months and it's not worked,' she said.
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the powerful Tory backbench 1922 Committee and MP for Altrincham and Sale West, said the 'case has not been made' for a tougher lockdown after a call with Helen Whately (right) yesterday
Furious hospitality chiefs today blasted Sadiq Khan for 'cursing' London as they warned that plunging the UK capital into Tier Two lockdown will cause 'catastrophic business closures and widespread job losses'.
London is braced for tighter controls from midnight tomorrow after a deal was done with Mr Khan, who is demanding yet more money from the Government and calling for a national 'circuit breaker'.
Residents will be banned from mixing with other households indoors, including in bars and other venues, while socialising outdoors — including pub and private gardens — will still be allowed under the Rule of Six.
Offices and public transport can remain open, although the Government's general advice to work from home where possible remains in place.
Today angry hospitality bosses, including restaurateurs, hoteliers and Britain's biggest pub trade association, all lined up to warn City Hall that further coronavirus restrictions would lead to economic devastation.
It has now emerged that UKHospitality boss Kate Nicholls warned the London Mayor that more draconian action would lead to 'mass job losses', as much as 250,000 in the capital alone, on Wednesday — a full day before London was moved into Tier Two.
Her letter to Mr Khan added that 'we have moved into a new phase of financial peril for our businesses, their employees, the capital's tourism offer, and the social and cultural prospects for Londoners'.
Wigan's Labour frontbencher Lisa Nandy said: 'Despite repeated attempts to claim we're divided there was total unity from Conservative and Labour Greater Manchester MPs on the call with the Minister this morning.
'We will support evidence based interventions with adequate financial support. We will not support this chaos.'
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the powerful Tory backbench 1922 Committee and MP for Altrincham and Sale West, said the 'case has not been made' for a tougher lockdown.
'There is widespread concern amongst Members of Parliament, council leaders and the Mayor of Greater Manchester, all resisting the suggestion that Tier Three should be introduced.'
However, significant movement came in shifting areas from Tier One to Tier Two on the government's lockdown scale.
Half of England will be under heightened lockdown from the weekend after nine million Londoners were told they face tougher curbs to tackle a coronavirus surge.
Mr Johnson reviewed the proposals after they were signed off by the 'gold command' group including chief medical officer Chris Whitty.
Along with London, Essex, Elmbridge, Barrow in Furness, York, North East Derbyshire, Chesterfield and Erewash will also be placed into the same category.
It means as of Saturday residents will be banned from mixing with other households indoors, including in bars and other venues. Socialising outdoors - including in pub and private gardens - will still be allowed within the Rule of Six.
Offices and public transport can remain open, although the government's general advice to work from home where possible stands.
Overall, nearly 30million people - around half the population of England - will be in a raised state of lockdown.
Mr Khan has been demanding more support for the capital's hospitality businesses that could be crippled by the shift. He warned this morning that Londoners face a 'difficult winter ahead', and also repeated his call for new national 'circuit breaker' measures alongside the curbs.
The Health Secretary told the Commons he 'hated' bringing in new measures, but it was the 'only way' to save lives. He said cases were 'on a steep upward path' in London.
'Unless we suppress the virus we cannot return to the economy we had,' he added.
In a grim message he warned: 'Things will get worse before they get better.'
The Queen sought to send a reassuring message to the country as she got back to business without a mask today, carrying out her first public engagement outside of a royal residence since before the coronavirus pandemic gripped the nation
Almost half of coronavirus infections are still happening in people in their teens and 20s, according to Public Health England.
Those in their late teens and early 20s appear to have fuelled the second wave if the epidemic.
Thousands of cases are being diagnosed in university students, who returned to their studies in September and notoriously live in cramped halls of residence and large households.
Working people in their 20s may also be large drivers of infection because of their active social lives.
Among 10 to 19-year-olds in England, PHE said, there are 245 cases of Covid-19 for every 100,000 people. And there are 253 cases per 100,000 in people aged 20 to 29.
Although young people are not at much risk of dying if they catch Covid-19, they can accelerate community outbreaks that spread to older people, and they may also suffer the lasting effects of 'long Covid'.
Dr Yvonne Doyle, PHE's medical director, said today: 'We're now seeing about 40 per cent of positive cases among young adults in their late teens and early twenties, which is causing the disease to spread rapidly throughout the community and older people.
'And while there are fewer cases among older people, they are far more likely to get seriously ill.
'That means we are also seeing a worrying increase in people aged over 75 being admitted to hospital. We must be prepared for the number