Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, and Sir Richard Leese, the Leader of Manchester City Council, issued a joint statement last night in which they expressed their frustration that the Government is continuing to put out fear-mongering stories about hospitals in Greater Manchester being on the verge of collapse. This was in response to Boris’s Downing Street spokesperson claiming Greater Manchester’s hospitals were on track to be overwhelmed by October 28th if the area isn’t immediately placed under a Tier 3 lockdown. Burnham and Leese dispute this:
We are disappointed that the Government has today sought to raise public concern about the NHS in Greater Manchester with selective statistics.
Greater Manchester’s ICU occupancy rate is not abnormal for this time of year and is comparable to the occupancy rate in October 2019. Also, providing information about individual hospitals does not reflect that our hospitals work as a system to manage demand.
We are not complacent about the position in our hospitals and are monitoring the situation closely. But in the current situation, we believe it is essential that our residents are given clear, accurate information about the state of the NHS in Greater Manchester and that public fears are not raised unnecessarily.
They’re not wrong. The chart above, which Prof Carl Heneghan and colleagues flagged up in the Telegraph on Saturday, shows that emergency episodes for respiratory conditions, including Covid, are well below the five-year average in Manchester University hospitals.
Interestingly, Sir Richard Leese has suggested that a policy of “focused protection”, shielding the elderly and the vulnerable rather than forcing everyone to self-isolate in their homes, would be far more sensible than a Tier 3 lockdown, echoing the strategy laid out in the Great Barrington Declaration – and his proposal has been endorsed by several local Conservative MPs. The Telegraph has more:
He claimed this would be less than a fifth of the cost of the business closures that would happen in Tier 3, enabling businesses to stay open and the majority of people to avoid tougher restrictions.
The plan was backed by senior Conservatives in the area including Sir Graham Brady, the Chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tories, who said there was no scientific basis for the tier system.
Sir Graham, the MP for Altrincham and Sale West, said the proposal should not be “dismissed out of hand”, adding: “The fundamental point about Tier 3 is the proposals don’t appear to have any evidential basis. There is no reason to think that closing some pubs and bars would have a significant impact on the spread on the virus.”
He was joined by James Daly, the Tory MP for Bury North, who said he was “extremely sympathetic” to Sir Richard’s proposal, and Chris Green, the Tory MP for Bolton West, who said: “I think this is a good direction of travel. Let’s keep our hospitality running up to Christmas and support people at home if they are deemed vulnerable.”
William Wragg, the Tory MP for Hazel Grove, said: “I think Richard Leese’s proposal has merit and should be properly considered.”
Sir Richard said: “Most people who test positive for the virus are not getting particularly ill. They are not the problem”, pointing out that those most at risk of hospitalisation were older people and those with existing underlying conditions, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure or 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?” he said.
Worth reading in full.
Stop Press: Ross Clark has written a piece for the Spectator headlined: “Does Manchester really need tougher restrictions?” I’ll let you guess the answer.
High Noon: Robert Jenrick, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, has given Burnham until Noon today to reach a deal – or else. But can Boris really force the people of Greater Manchester to observe Tier 3 restrictions in the teeth of opposition from the Mayor and the leader of the council?