Speaking during PMQs, Johnson told Starmer to “get on to his Labour friends in those parts of the north of England” to “put those very stringent measures in place”.
But the Labour leader said leaders in Greater Manchester, including mayor Andy Burnham and the Conservative leader of Bolton Council David Greenhalgh, had earlier on Wednesday called for a national “circuit breaker” lockdown that went beyond what the government had called for.
“Keep up, prime minister,” Starmer said. “The prime minister is behind the curve again.”
The exchanges came after Labour shifted position and called on the government impose a two- to three-week national lockdown to try and suppress the virus.
The government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) has also said a national “circuit breaker” would be the best way to reduce the spread.
But Johnson has so far rejected calls for national measures and instead argued his new new three-tier system of local restrictions is the best way forward.
“We don’t want to go there, we want the regional approach,” he said.
The new system sees all areas of England being put into three different categories labelled as medium, high or very high risk.
The Liverpool region is the only area to be under the toughest rules. But government health officials are expected to discuss with politicians in Greater Manchester and Lancashire whether to classify the areas as “very high”.
Burnham and council leaders across the region have said the tier three restrictions are “fundamentally flawed”.
“If the government pursues its current strategy, we believe it will leave large parts of the North of England trapped in tier three for much of the winter with all the damage that will do,” they said.
“If cases continue to rise as predicted, and the government continues to refuse to provide the substantial economic support that tier three areas will need, then a number of leaders in Greater Manchester believe a national circuit-break, with the required financial support would be a preferable option.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Northern Ireland’s first minister Arlene Foster announce pubs and restaurants will close to the public for four weeks as part of a month-long “circuit breaker”.