Mayor of Greater Manchester also calls for 16- and 17-year-olds to be vaccinated
Face masks were high on the agenda as Sir Richard Leese and Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham held their regular press conference on the city region's COVID response today (6 July).
According to the government, after 19 July mask-wearing will be entirely voluntary, although people will be asked to be mindful of mitigating infection risks for both themselves and others when in crowded spaces with strangers, such as on public transport.
Andy Burnham commented: “Looking at the polling, I think there’ll be many, many people in Greater Manchester who are feeling a little uncertain today about what lies ahead. Obviously we had the announcement from the government yesterday and broadly support the direction of travel, although as you know, not with regard to the removal of the requirement to wear face coverings on public transport.”
“I think the public will be feeling uncertain because on the one hand, we were hearing a story of cases still rising, the health secretary talking about 100,000 cases a day. It doesn't follow for people therefore that you say remove all restrictions. I think the government needs to think about its messaging in this particular moment in time, and build that reassurance amongst the public.”
“Speaking with the other leaders in Greater Manchester this morning. We've agreed that the right approach is to continue to strongly encourage the wearing of face coverings on public transport in Greater Manchester on our trams, trains and buses."
I know there are different views on this. But the Government is in danger of looking like it is only listening to the loudest voices on the subject of masks.👇🏻 https://t.co/K9wC20gf14
— Andy Burnham (@AndyBurnhamGM) July 5, 2021
However, Burnham did tell BBC Radio 4’s World At One earlier that he would not make them mandatory on trams, despite having the power to do so, saying, “I just don’t think it would work”.
“If the Government comes up with a national ruling I just don’t see how we would be able to enforce it at our level,” he said.
Burnham continued: “We could only enforce here in relation to our tram system. And the reality is, it will be very difficult to do that when there is a different message at a national level, we feel that we are a recipe for confusion, potential tension, be very difficult for people working on the transport system to enforce and will put staff in a very difficult position. So we are saying, we will strongly encourage rather than force, but we will also seek to make sure we refresh the messaging about why it's important to wear a face covering."
I struggle to see how Ministers can drop the requirement to wear masks on public transport without causing real problems for some people who are dependent on it.
Those more vulnerable to infection or anxious about it will be put in a very unfair position.
— Andy Burnham (@AndyBurnhamGM) July 4, 2021
Case rates are rising in Greater Manchester along with many parts of the country. Sir Richard Leese said: “We’ve had an increase in every district in Greater Manchester, which is clearly not good news.”
There is an increase in positive tests for the 0-15 age category, indicating that primary school children are at increasing risk of testing positive for COVID, while the biggest increases have been seen in the 16-19 age range. This is reflected in the amount of time children are absent from school with over 10,000 pupils absent in the Manchester district last week.
While hospital admissions are not rising as steeply as they have previously, and the number of cases going on to ICU remains low, there is a still concern regarding the wider pressure on the healthcare system.
Sir Richard Leese said: "We didn't see a flu season last winter, so there is a concern that there could be a bigger flu season this year. We need to start thinking very seriously about how we support the NHS and colleagues working with it through the autumn and the winter period because I think it is going to be extremely challenging. So there is a lot of focus on the flu vaccination programme alongside the COVID booster jab and there'll be a huge effort to make sure that we maximise take up of both."
Vaccination rates are fairly strong in Greater Manchester, but Andy Burnham said he would like to see the jab offered to under-18s: "It is clear that there is a considerable degree of transmission amongst the 16 to 29 age group, particularly amongst those teenagers within that age group. We have made the case here, to the JCVI that 16 and 17 year olds should now be called forward for vaccination and we want to reiterate that, at that point."
Don't miss out
Get the latest food & drink news and exclusive offers by email.
So what can happen from 19 July?
Nightclubs can reopen
No attendance caps on events such as weddings
No limits on audiences for theatre, cinema and other live shows
The 1-metre plus rule will no longer be enforced
Table service is not mandatory
The advice to work from home if possible will end
Care home visitor limits will lift
Businesses may be able to ask for proof of a negative test
People must still self-isolate if they test positive for coronavirus whatever their vaccination status
From 16 August close contacts will no longer have to self-isolate if they have had both jabs
Close contacts under 18 will no longer have to self-isolate and will instead be tested regularly