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Britain re-imposes COVID restrictions in parts of Manchester

LONDON (Reuters) - The British government re-imposed local COVID-19 restrictions on parts of the Greater Manchester area in northern England on Wednesday, just as they were being lifted, the latest in a series of abrupt reversals.

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Health Secretary Matt Hancock said social distancing measures would remain in place in the boroughs of Bolton and Trafford, contrary to his announcement on Aug. 28 that they would be lifted on Sept. 2.

“Following a significant change in the level of infection rates over the last few days, a decision has been taken that Bolton and Trafford will now remain under existing restrictions,” Hancock said in a statement.

The restrictions, which have been in place in Greater Manchester since July 30, mean among other things that residents cannot meet people from outside a narrowly defined social bubble in homes, either indoors or in gardens.

The planned lifting of the restrictions in Trafford and Bolton while they remained in place elsewhere in the densely populated metropolitan area had proved controversial.

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, of the opposition Labour Party, said earlier on Wednesday that it left residents in “an impossible situation”, calling on them to keep following the restrictions regardless of the change.

The government’s original decision on Aug. 28 to lift the restrictions in Trafford had been taken against the wishes of the elected local authority.

After Hancock’s sudden U-turn on Wednesday, the Labour leader of Trafford Council Andrew Western said on Twitter: “We should never have been put in this mess in the first place; this has massively damaged public confidence in measures.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has been criticised for what many view as its confusing response to the coronavirus outbreak.

In particular, the government has repeatedly taken measures it had previously vowed not to. A recent example was the scrapping of grades assigned to young people leaving schools without having been able to take exams, after they caused a public outcry.

Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Stephen Addison