After days of intense negotiations, Greater Manchester heads into the weekend in limbo.
Millions of people across the region are no closer to an answer; no closer to knowing how their lives will be affected in the coming weeks.
After months of anxiety and hardship, people are growing increasingly weary.
Thousands of businesses are unsure when, or even if, the region will follow Liverpool and Lancashire into Tier 3 lockdown.
Leaders here have reportedly been enraged during video calls with ministers this week.
Politicians on our patch have been left furious following meetings branded an ‘utter waste of time’.
There’s been apparent government ‘leaks’ to national newspapers, with subsequent reports that Tier 3 measures would be imposed within hours. They turned out to be off the mark as it emerged a deal was far from done.
Politician’s morning radio and TV rounds have been dominated by questions over the increasingly-bitter bust-up; the war of words ever-intensifying.
The stalemate between government ministers and local leaders comes down to the level of financial support Downing Street is offering to the workers and firms which would be forced to close down.
Leaders here are also far from convinced Tier 3 measures would work – and want specifics on an exit strategy.
As it stands, neither side is willing to budge.
Stood on the steps of Central Library on Thursday afternoon, Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham delivered an impassioned speech, accusing the government of treating the region like a ‘canary down the coal mine’.
He accused the government of attempting to use areas of the north as part of an ‘experimental regional lockdown strategy’.
Calling for an 80 per cent furlough scheme for those affected should pubs and other venues shut, Mr Burnham said Downing Street’s plans to impose a Tier 3 lockdown were ‘flawed and unfair’.
“The north is fed up of being pushed around,” he added.
“They are asking us to gamble our jobs, homes and businesses – on a Tier 3 strategy their experts say might not work.”
On Friday morning, commuters arrived in the city centre to see the infamous Piccadilly Gardens wall had been graffitied.
The message: “The north is not a petri dish.”
Prime Minister Johnson has urged Mr Burnham and his colleagues to work ‘constructively’ with the government, insisting that measures could still be imposed if a deal is not agreed.
He will, he insists, step in ‘to protect Manchester’s hospitals and save the lives of Manchester’s residents’.
Speaking at a press conference on Friday afternoon, the PM said he understood the reluctance of Greater Manchester’s leaders – but said ‘time is of the essence’.
Quoting figures which showed the number of cases in the region had doubled in the last nine days – and the number of Covid patients in Greater Manchester ICU beds was already 40 per cent above occupancy at the height of the first wave – he said: “I must stress the situation is grave and it worsens with each passing day.”
His message to Mr Burnham and his colleagues was clear: “If an agreement cannot be reached, I will need to intervene.”
Mr Johnson added: “I urge the mayor to reconsider and engage constructively. I cannot stress enough – time is of the essence.
“Each day that passes before action is taken means more people will go to hospital, more people will end up in intensive care, and tragically more people will die.”
Earlier, the Prime Minister thanked Mr Burnham’s Merseyside counterpart Steve Rotherham – as well as London mayor Sadiq Khan and Lancashire leaders – for ‘working constructively’ with the government following the announcement of Tier 3 restrictions in those areas.
“In Merseyside, where the situation is most acute, we were able to conclude talks quickly,” he said.
That thinly-veiled dig didn’t go unnoticed here, nor have perceived attempts to capitalise on the old Manchester-Liverpool rivalry.
It remains to be seen whether the government’s tactics will work – or whether a compromise can be struck.
In a statement following Mr Johnson’s address to the nation, Mr Burnham and his colleagues held firm.
After a week of toing and froing, they said they were ‘on standby all day’ on Friday to continue talks with the government. A meeting, they say, was never arranged.
“We can assure the Prime Minister that we are ready to meet at any time to try to agree a way forward,” the statement, also signed by deputy mayor Bev Hughes and the ten Greater Manchester council leaders read.
“We can also say with confidence that we have done, and will continue to do, everything within our power to protect the health of our residents.”
Blackpool council leader Lynn Williams has claimed Lancashire had been ‘bullied’ into accepting a Tier 3 lockdown.
Greater Manchester’s leaders seem determined not to follow suit.