MAYOR of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham has called for the Government to publish the R value per region in England to help communities ease lockdown restrictions.

The former Labour MP for Leigh wrote in the Observer on Sunday that the Prime Minister could fracture national unity unless he listens to regional concerns, adding the lifting of measures came too quickly for the north.

As reported last week, Mr Burnham revealed that the R rate for coronavirus in Greater Manchester has an average of 0.73 at the moment.

The R rate, standing for reproductive rate, is the number of people that a person infected with COVID-19 will pass the virus on to, on average.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Mr Burnham called for the Government to publish a regional breakdown of the R value - which measures how many people on average one infected person transmits the disease to - to give people confidence they are making the right decisions at the right time, including on the reopening of schools.

He said: "People do not have the R information at the moment. They can get it, but it's not formally published by the government.

"There's a very different picture in the north, particularly in the north east, where the R is the highest, so I can understand concerns [about lifting lockdown measures].

"Let's get back around the table, look at the evidence and have some flexibility in terms of how [children] return to school because it will be different for different places."

Damian Hinds, former Conservative education secretary, told BBC Breakfast it is "totally understandable" that people have concerns about their children returning to school and that he would expect teaching unions to be thinking about their members, adding this is "absolutely right".

He added that he thinks "the time is right now" for pupils to begin to return, saying "there is a lot scientific advice and analysis gone into this".

Mr Hinds said there is "flexibility" in the Government's plans, so that if there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in one part of the country, there can be a response to that.

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves said the reopening of schools is a "difficult balancing act" as social distancing, particularly for young children, is "really, really tough" along with the wearing of face masks.

She told Sky News' Sophy Ridge on Sunday: "It is really important for the education of our young people, but also for their mental health and wellbeing, that they are back in school as soon as it is safe to do so.

"To do that we need to work together, the Government needs to work with teachers and parents, but also Government needs to put in place some of the measures to improve confidence.

"That includes the test, trace and isolate strategy."

Former education secretary Mr Hinds said the effects of not being in school have been "felt by children throughout the country, especially the most disadvantaged".

He said it is "right" that there is transparency about how plans are being made and that is why bodies including the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies has published papers.

On schools, the Department for Education has published a summary of the evidence, he added.

"As parents, we want to know what the background to this is," Mr Hinds said.

"This is still a couple of weeks away. Over that period, people will have the opportunity to hear more about it and build confidence.

"It is in everybody's best interests that children can go back to school."

Labour's Ms Reeves, asked if children should not be heading back to school until the contact tracing system is up and running, replied on Sky News: "This isn't just about schools, this is about wider issues around easing some of the lockdown restrictions.

"But the anxiety teachers and parents face would be a lot less if we had that test, trace and isolate strategy in place.

"We want that to be up and running to ease the whole range of the lockdown restrictions.

"But specifically on schools we want the Government to work with the teachers, parents and teaching unions to give them confidence and to publish the science upon which the decision is being made to reopen schools."

Ms Reeves said the Government has two weeks to put in place the test and trace approach, hold talks with the relevant parties and publish the science before schools are due to welcome more pupils through their gates.

She added: "The Government has got a lot more work to do to give that confidence that it'll be safe to have more children coming into school in two weeks' time."

Mr Hinds paid tribute to the "extraordinary" job teachers have done in the last few weeks as he said that different children have had different experiences of learning during the lockdown.

Asked about current arguments over whether or not it is too early for children to begin to return to school, Mr Hinds told BBC Breakfast: "I think ultimately everybody is on the same page."

He said that among the teachers he has spoken to "of course there are concerns about safety", adding that is why there is a "comprehensive plan".

But Mr Hinds added that "these teachers really want to be back teaching kids".