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.

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