Leader of Manchester City Council issues a statement ahead of tomorrow’s Government announcement

Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council, has released a statement laying out where problems do and do not lie in the battle to limit the spread of coronavirus in the area. He points out the complications of enforcing rules that are not suitably clear and warns of the social consequences of shutting down large swathes of the hospitality industry.

Enforcement of mixing between households is nigh on impossible and so reducing household mixing requires willing compliance

In a clear and balanced missive, Sir Richard acknowledges that measures must of course be taken to protect the people of Greater Manchester and NHS front line staff, but suggests that many are unable to follow rules they don’t understand. He also points out that enforcement officers are limited in terms of what they can do to protect people under their own roof, which is where many cases have been proved to initiate.

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Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham with Leader of the city council Sir Richard Leese (R)

“We obviously share the concern of the Government at increased Covid-19 cases and understand the anxiety about the impact on the National Health Service - particularly hospitals,” says Sir Richard. “We share their desire to reduce the number of cases and fully acknowledge that transmission comes primarily through people meeting. 

“This means that we have to reduce the extent to which people meet where reasonable to do so but this has to be balanced with people being able to continue to meet in Covid-safe environments. The evidence we have seen strongly suggest that, apart from among students, most transmission in Manchester takes place in household settings and is compounded by those households increasingly not complying with guidance that they don’t understand and find confusing.”

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Evidence suggests that most transmission in Manchester takes place in household settings

Sir Richard then goes on to point out the limitations of policing social mixing in domestic settings and how it must be up to individuals to uphold the guidelines. The trouble is, those Government guidelines are not exactly clear.

“Outside extreme circumstances, for example house parties that lead to noise complaints, enforcement of mixing between households is nigh on impossible and so reducing household mixing requires willing compliance. The best way to achieve that compliance would be by having a single set of suitable national rules and messages that applies across the whole country.”

Sir Richard then goes on to criticise the Government’s own system of contract tracing which has been less successful than was hoped.

“In terms of reducing mixing with a real risk attached to it, self isolation on the back of test and trace is an essential component but we have been in discussions with Government for months about boosting the local element of test, trace and contact with little progress. This now needs to be given absolute priority because it is still the key to reducing cases of the virus."

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As the weather is now colder, more of this mixing would be taking place indoors, an environment far more likely to support transmission because it's not regulated as it is in bars, pubs and restaurants.

Ahead of Monday's anticipated official announcement (parts of which have been recently ‘leaked’ to the press) in regard to a second regional lockdown and the possible closure of pubs, restaurants, cafes and bars, Sir Richard goes on to say:

“A lot of emphasis has been placed on pubs, bars and restaurants. The evidence in Manchester is that these are not major sources of transmission and that if they were to be closed we would return to circumstances seen during the national lockdown when enormous numbers of people were still socially mixing but in an unregulated, non-Covid secure environment. The only difference this time would be that as the weather is now colder, more of this mixing would be taking place indoors, an environment far more likely to support transmission.

He then calls for more instantaneous powers to be able to quickly deal with any non-compliance, including the authority to close any business if necessary. 

“We think a far better route to managing licensed premises, and other non-licensed premises such as shops which are also open to the public, would be to have rapidly-deployable enforcement measures to ensure they are following all the necessary measures to keep staff and customers as safe as possible. These powers should allow premises to be issued with an improvement notice and closed with 24 hours notice if they do not heed it. Fixed penalty notices are not working as a deterrent and only closures will have a real impact. This needs to apply more broadly than just to licensed premises and should include all premises that are open to the public. The current 10pm curfew for licensed premises needs to go because it is causing more problems than it is solving.” 

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Sir Richard Leese In Manchester

Sir Richard then goes on to warn that the measures are likely to have deeper and longer lasting consequences that the pandemic itself.

“Measures already taken by the Government are having a seriously negative impact on the economy in Manchester. Further measures risk posing an existential threat for enormous numbers of our businesses and the people who work in them.  Work is a health issue and we know that people who are in employment enjoy better health and that people who lose their jobs can experience very rapid deterioration in their health, especially but not limited to their mental health. Actions which put people out of work will have both short-term health impacts and far more serious longer term consequences.

“The health impacts of severely damaging the economy must be balanced against the health impacts of Covid-19. We believe the proposals submitted by Manchester and other Northern cities allow us to address both at the same time.” 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to make a full statement on Monday regarding extra restrictions for millions of people across the north of England to tackle a second wave as coronavirus cases rise.

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