Manchester City Council

Covid 16  What Matters is What Works

19 October, 2020

Ten days ago I set out my objections to the government's approach to bringing down the number of Coronavirus cases, an approach that is not based on the evidence or supported by the science. Since then a stand-off has developed between Greater Manchester Council Leaders ( acting unanimously ) and the vast majority of Greater Manchester MPs on one side, and the Westminster government on the other. There are though two areas of agreement, the first that we need to reduce the number of cases leading to hospitalisation, the second that the current situation does need to be resolved.

The dispute is often represented as being simply about money. It is true that GM Leaders strongly believe that if government is going to force hundreds of businesses to close, and their staff to be laid off, those workers need far more than 66% of their normal wage to survive, and the businesses themselves need enough support to survive. This is particularly the case as government wants to close bars and pubs without any evidence that they are a major cause of virus transmission and without any evidence that closing them would be effective. Indeed the evidence we have in Manchester is the opposite, that pubs and bars are not a major source of transmission, and closing well-regulated, Covid-safe meeting places could make the problem worse by driving the activity underground.

However, more important than money are the actions to address the problem. Most people who test positive for the virus are not getting particularly ill. They are not the problem. Too many are now getting ill and the number of hospital cases is going up, as is the number of people with Covid in intensive care. That's the problem. I've spent a fair chunk of time over the last week talking to hospital staff about exactly what is going on. The good news is that they expect that now with improved treatment, they don't expect to see anything like the death rate we had back in April and May. The bad news is that if cases continue to rise, they will have to again start cancelling other patients treatments.

They do though know who in the population is, if they catch the virus, most at risk of hospitalisation - older people and people with existing underlying conditions, diabetes, obesity, high-blood pressure, other respiratory illnesses. If this is the evidence, wouldn't it be much better to have an effective shielding programme for those most at risk, rather than have a blanket business closure policy of dubious efficacy. Greater Manchester have estimated the cost of a shielding programme at around £14m a month, less than a fifth of the estimated cost of business closures. Sadly, government, having forced through badly thought regulations, seem unwilling to think again.

There are 17 responses to “Covid 16  What Matters is What Works”

  1. Martin Rathfelder Says:

    This is a long job. Its a delusion to think it can be fixed by a short shut down.

  2. David Holes Says:

    This is the 'Great Barrington Declaration' in all but name.

  3. Theresa Says:

    I've been unsure why, when objections to blanket lockdown are discussed that one of the principal objections is that shielding those at greatest risk is unrealistic. Your blog has given me something concrete to argue with. Thanks.

  4. PTomlinson Says:

    This is Great Barrington and will not work. It is very dangerous. I had thought better of you.

  5. D Byrne Says:

    As a Manchester resident I am disappointed at the stance adopted by yourself and the City councillors with regard to the protection of our health and safety in the light of the continued increase in infections.

    It is somewhat hypocritical that you have adopted your current position, with the risks of increased infections which are likely to ensue, despite the knowledge that the return of the students to the city would, and has, made a significant contribution to the current R rate.

    Furthermore, despite being in a controlled environment, in August, the city council was happy for a fun fair and weekend event to be staged at the Manchester Irish Centre, in the knowledge that over the weeks before and of the August Bank Holiday weekend, Cheetham Hill was one of the wards with the highest number of cases in Manchester.

    Many of the bars and restaurants in the city centre are poorly run businesses and the council’s own licensing unit would be able to confirm the “churn” in business over recent years, not least in the Northern Quarter. I too would like increased support for employees, including younger members of my family, who rely on bar and casual work.

    However, I remain unconvinced that maintaining the entertainment business, purely for a short term economic benefit and to support weak enterprises, justifies the risks to the wider population. The manner in which such businesses have failed to manage customer numbers or to enforce track and trace is a joke! I can name three bars in the Northern Quarter where there has been a total failure of customer management on repeated occasions. Hence, my belief that the management of such venues operate in a culture of disregard for and complacency towards their staff and the wider community.

    As a Labour or Liberal supporter and someone who believes in the value of robust scientific analysis and evidence, my instinct is to believe a lock down now would be for the benefit of all. Your failure to comply with the SAGE recommendations is disheartening and seems to be nothing short of political gaming with a weak Health Secretary and a pointless Prime Minister! Party politics should form no part of the strategy to combat the virus.

    Together you have failed to stem the incidence of the disease over the summer months and I can only believe that your current stance represents some degree of guilt as contributors to the current position.

    Like many in the City Centre, I live in fear of the virus risks posed by the student population and the entertainment and leisure sector. More so now as a result of not being elevated to Tier 3 and, may I say, trepidation at the likely influx of party goers and drinkers from the Warrington and Liverpool areas over the forthcoming weekend.

    I am a disappointed resident who looks on in shame at the behaviour of my national and local “leaders”.

    Furthermore, it is a pity that neither you nor your office/colleagues respond to emails sent to your email address on the Manchester City Council website or to the leaders blog.

  6. Dr Andrew Watt Says:

    You claim that "a shielding programme" would cost around £14 million per month but give no details of the content of your proposal.

    If your suggestion is to be taken seriously may I suggest that you publish a full proposal which addresses the public health issues and the financial aspects.

    Only then can a sensible reader decide on the credibility (or otherwise) that your proposal merits.

  7. Sharron Milsom Says:

    It is not possible to simply shield those most at risk. Aside from around 30% of people having risk factors remember that many of the vulnerable have carers - eirher in their care home or home carers visiting them usually 4 times a day. A much bigger number rely on informal care from family and friends. Also, some of those most at risk will need to go into hospital or be seen by GPs or other medical professionals. It is not possible to effectively shield those most vulnerable as they can't be separated from the community. Reducing the numbers with the virus across the population as a whole is the way to protect against them.

  8. Simon Moat Says:

    Perhaps you would publish evidence along with the sources that validate your statement that pubs and bars aren't a major source of transmission within Manchester, and state what is the threshold you consider to be major.

    Since track and trace is not 100% effective, and asymptomatic cases are rarely identified (due the requirement to be symptomatic in order to get a test), any data available is is linked directly to test availability (which is
    very selective) and/or extrapolation based on assumption/estimate.

    This particular virus is transmitted by person to person contact, it therefore makes perfect sense that places inside with poor ventilation, where people congregate, in order to consume products that impair their judgement are highly likely to be sources of transmission, and that reducing person to person contact of this type will reduce spread.

    The unnamed medical professionals you have spoken to may not expect anything like the death rate we had earlier in the year, but there would be deaths that otherwise would not occur, and by allowing the virus to spread you will ultimately cause unnecessary death, higher load on the NHS, and unnecessary suffering.

    Identifying those at risk and shielding them on paper seems credible, but there is no reliable way to identify all those at risk, there is no reliable indicator of how badly the illness will affect the individual, and there is no flashing light on everyone head that shows if they are infectious or otherwise.There are some loose principles based on age and underlying condition about susceptibility to serious effects, but these are not hard and fast rules you can use to identify vulnerable people, and people you fail to identify using the crude criteria will likely die, similarly unless you move the vulnerable to their own island and restrict contact wit the outside world, what you propose is pie in the sky.

    You can't effectively shield the vulnerable, you cant even effectively identity them. Are you going to ask care staff to shield, what about their children? What about their partners? Should we prevent grandparents from seeing children for the duration of the pandemic?

    If you think it's possible to shield just the vulnerable effectively please state how so it can be reviewed, rather than just making a statement based on what you would like to do.

    You have an estimated cost for a shielding programme, that implies you have some meat on the bones, please publish what it is based on and how it would work.

    Yes its extremely sad that certain sectors for the time being are no longer viable, and extremely sad about the negative impact on business but it's a necessary evil with no viable alternatives presented other than in soundbites.

    "Greater Manchester have estimated the cost of a shielding programme at around £14m a month, less than a fifth of the estimated cost of business closures. " - publish them and how you arrived at the figures, another word for estimate is guess.

  9. Jackie Griffiths Says:

    I agree. Shielding the vulnerable would allow the people who aren't or who are prepared to accept the risk to reboot the economy

  10. Colleen Owens Says:

    I thoroughly support the concept of a shielding programme. Let those people who are not at risk carry on and aid in the financial support of those whom are vunerable.

  11. Paul Cross Says:

    At last a clear logical different approach to tackling the issue of protecting the most vunerable. When the decision to open the school's & uni's was taken, it was obvious that the infection rate would rise, so why is it being reported as if it's an unexpected trend. If we continue to damage the economy, there will be no money for the NHS. So new saying, protect the vunerable, protect the economy, protect the NHS!

  12. Shelley Townsend Says:

    Sir Richard,

    You and Andy Burnham are playing.politics. I have NEVER voted Tory, and have been a Labout voter for over 40 years. You are recruiting youngsters for them with your totally obstinate rhetoric. SHUT IT DOWN NOW PLEASE and save lives. I am scared ans so are many of my friends and family. We can recover the economy but cannot bring people back from the dead.

  13. David Marney Says:

    Agree with you but should also educate on vit D, C and Zinc. Very easy measures might make big difference as sunlight disappears.

  14. Maurice Littlewood Says:

    I thought I had read or heard every stupid statement there could be about this pandemic, but I was wrong. The suggestion that shielding is the answer is just about as banal as it gets. Just what planet are you from? In your world you obviously see thousands of over-sixties and vulnerable people raving the night away at the pubs and in the streets.
    I would venture to suggest that the vulnerable group is probably the only one who really have taken this pandemic to heart, simply because, on the face of it this category has most to lose. To attempt to imprison people simply because of age or medical shortcomings is just beyond belief.
    I have voiced previously that at some point in the future the question of life-limitation will have to be addressed, but in the here-and-now we're dealing with humane versus inhumane activity.

  15. Atma jyoti Says:

    I fully support you and Andy. I am old but I know and feel truth.hopefully we Will find a harmonious result. I am praying non stop for the guardians of the universe to assist in the tyranny of lies and deceit. The truth sets you free ..lies harm your body and mind for your karmic life.thank God for the sun today ..not so many admissions for flu.

  16. Tim Sheffield Says:

    The virus lasts for about 8 days and must find its next host within that period or it dies. To catch it - it must get in your eyes, nose or throat. What are we missing?

  17. F Eccott Says:

    Broadly agree with R.Leese - there's nothing wrong with regional strategies but this Government is now slightly obsessed with geography as the solution a man with a hammer etc.

    Closer scrutiny of hospitals and care homes as vectors of passing the Virus should not be forgotten about if the lessons of wave 1 of Covid in this country are to be learned and acted on.

    One comment, from of all sources a cycling podcast, really resonated with of the greatest risks of Covid is the negativity and fear to go about our daily business...momentum is difficult to shift and its not positive momentum right now.

    I'm not sure that the cries of 'why us' from those in advanced states of lockdown won't in itself cause a ramping up of lockdowns. I feel that's one of the blunter tools potentially available.



The blog of the leader of Manchester City Council, Councillor Richard Leese.

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