A major incident has been declared in Greater Manchester after Covid infection rates continued to climb into the end of the week – including particularly big spikes in Manchester and Tameside, plus a sustained steep rise in Oldham.
Gold command meetings of senior figures from the police, local authorities and other agencies have been taking place over the weekend amid concerns that numbers are still going up in the wake of stricter lockdown measures being announced on Thursday night.
Infection rates for the week to Thursday show cases per 100,000 people still rising in every part of the conurbation. Those in Manchester and Tameside have more than doubled in seven days, while Oldham’s remain the highest and the fastest-growing.
Click on the council names or the lines of this interactive graph for details of infection rates in each area
Provisional figures for the week to Friday, which will be revised by Public Health England in the coming 24 hours, suggest that trend then continued upwards.
Previously, data for the seven days to last Monday had already prompted the new restrictions for Greater Manchester announced later in the week, as local and national leaders became worried about the trend.
The latest figures appear to show that pattern has continued, although sources note that the public health measures announced on Thursday night will take some time to take effect. Manchester council’s leader said the major incident declaration should not be a cause for alarm, but was designed to ensure all parts of the system could ramp up their response.
Provisional numbers for the week to Friday do suggest rates in Bury may have started to level off, while in Bolton they also appear relatively steady.
However Oldham had 31 confirmed cases on July 28, which is the highest in a single day since May 9.
There have only been seven days since the start of the pandemic that Oldham has recorded more than 31 cases in a single day. Even during the peak month of April there were just five days when more than 31 cases were reported.
Manchester had 178 confirmed cases in the week up to July 31st, which is the biggest since 24 May. But at the height of the pandemic it was seeing much bigger numbers – at its height was 366 in a week.
Manchester had 36 cases on 29th July.
Rochdale’s figures are continuing to fall in the wake of targeted measures introduced more than a fortnight ago.
The major incident has been declared due to the overall picture, ahead of a further review of the data tomorrow morning.
That move – in line with the region’s ‘outbreak’ strategy – is the same as would be declared in the event of a terror attack or major flood and means the region can access extra national resources if necessary.
If the police need extra help in enforcement, it is understood the army could be drafted in to support them.
Some public health officials also hope it will concentrate minds at a time when there are fears people do not understand – and are not following – the extra limits on household mixing announced by Matt Hancock.
The declaration is expected to lead to greater police enforcement of the latest measures, including in bars, although new legislation promised by the government on Friday has not yet materialised.
Insiders say the continued increases are not related to Eid, which only began on Friday so cannot realistically have contributed to the rise.
One said mosques have been compliant with the new measures and that the rise is down to continued household transmission across all communities, as well as younger people not observing social distancing measures.
In Manchester, the highest number of cases is understood to be in Crumpsall.
Hospital admissions are said to remain stable regionwide, however, with one official describing them as ‘really low across GM’.
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“It’s younger people now, and not ill enough to be in hospital,” they said of those testing positive.
Senior figures hope that the move to a major incident will be enough to avoid a Leicester-style full-on lockdown of the economy, which can only be implemented by the health secretary.
Several said that was not currently on the horizon, but conceded ir would depend on how the picture plays out.
“If the situation worsens, then clearly other measures will have to be urgently considered,” said one.
Gold command are meeting daily and are in close contact with the Cabinet Office and the Joint Biosecurity Centre on the issue.
There is a growing concern about the testing situation in care homes, however.
Government had promised to provide regular testing of all staff and residents across the sector throughout the summer, but this morning it emerged that pledge had been abandoned.
That is now not said to be possible until September.
The M.E.N. is aware of at least one care home here that has been told to stop testing because the wider system does not have the capacity to process the tests, a message that is thought to have been reiterated to others too.
One source said this was the reason Greater Manchester has been pushing for full control of the testing regime in the conurbation, as well as more involvement in the national contact tracing system, which is currently said to be reaching little more than half of the more straightforward cases it should be.
Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council, said people ‘should not be alarmed’ that a major incident has been declared.
“This is standard practice for complex situations which require a multi-agency response,” he said.
“Although the council and partner organisations have been working closely to tackle the impacts of the pandemic since early this year, declaring a major incident means we can ramp this up further.
“It allows the establishment of a central command structure to oversee the response and enables agencies involved to draw on extra resources.
“Following last week’s Government announcement of preventative public health measures across Greater Manchester to address rising numbers of Covid-19 cases, the public would expect us to give this situation our concerted collective attention. That, with a view to enabling these restrictions to be lifted as soon as possible, is exactly what we are doing.”
Assistant Chief Constable Nick Bailey, chair of the Local Resilience Forum, said: “The Strategic Coordination Group met on Saturday, 1 August 2020 to discuss regulations in response to the new Covid-19 restrictions across Greater Manchester, declared by the Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Thursday evening.
“Recognising that there are multiple localities across Greater Manchester seeing rises in infection rates, the group reviewed learning from other recent areas, including Leicester, and its own learning from across the partnership and have taken the decision to declare this a major incident in order to respond as effectively as possible.
“This will enable us to maximise the capability of agencies across Greater Manchester, including additional resources if required, to instigate a prompt and positive change in direction.
“It is part of our desire to protect the population of Greater Manchester and provide them with the highest levels of assurance that agencies are doing all they can to reduce infection rates and bring Greater Manchester back to as near a state of normality as current times allow.’’