Leader of Manchester City Council weighs in on current Greater Manchester Tier 3 ‘stand-off’

manchester.gov.uk

The Leader of Manchester City Council has released a statement this morning to weigh in on the ongoing ‘stand-off’ regarding the potential of Greater Manchester entering Tier 3 restrictions under the government’s new three tier coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions scheme.

Sir Richard Leese issued his views this morning via a post to Manchester City Council’s ‘The Leader’s Blog’.

He last offered up his viewpoint on the matter in a formal address in conjunction with Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham and Deputy Mayor Baroness Beverly Hughes on the steps of Manchester Central Library last Thursday following a series of crunch talks with local leaders, MPs and central government ministers.

It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a live TV press conference on Friday afternoon that he may “need to intervene” in Greater Manchester if an agreement is not met.

He stated that the situation is “grave” and “worsening by the day”.

A number of reports are now emerging this morning – along with comments made by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick – to suggest that an agreement is closer than ever to being made and could be expected to be announced at some point today or tomorrow.

Sir Richard Leese has now spoken further this morning in relation to his “objections to the government’s approach” and offered a updated take on the situation in a piece titled ‘What Matters is What Works’ on his blog:

“10 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.

Sir Richard Leese via The Leader’s Blog

You can read the full statement via the Manchester City Council website here.

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For the latest information, guidance and support during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the UK, please do refer to official sources at gov.uk/coronavirus.

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