Late on Thursday night, 30th July, Greater Manchester, parts of West Yorkshire and East Lancashire were told by the Government that the increase in Covid-19 positive cases meant that local restrictions would need to be imposed in these areas. Oldham Council’s public health team had already acted on the increase in infections earlier in the week. But the Government restrictions were slightly different; for example although Oldham Council had wanted to extend shielding for vulnerable people, the Government said that funding for this would no longer be available.
The Government restrictions mean people are not permitted to mix with other households (apart from those in their support bubbles) in private homes or gardens. Households may go to hospitality, for instance bars and pubs, but the guidance states that people from different households should not socialise together. You can find more information on the Government guidelines here.
No one would argue with putting in place local action to reduce the transmission of coronavirus. But the Government announcing measures affecting potentially millions of people late at night on Twitter caused confusion, uncertainty and upset with local leaders trying to play catch up. The lack of sensitivity regarding Eid celebrations was particularly disrespectful. Once again it means families and friends will be forced to stay apart if they do not live together.
I have repeatedly warned that we were lifting the lockdown too early given the level of virus that is still circulating in the community, and that we didn’t have – and still don’t have – a fully operational ‘test, trace and isolate’ system. This is one of the 6 criteria defined by the World Health Organisation back in May as essential before the easing of any lockdown measures. We still have issues with the data we are getting from the private so-called pillar 2 testing labs – the data is too often incomplete, for example, it doesn’t include occupation or workplace data – and with the national, privately run contact tracing programme which is currently only able to contact 1 in 2 people who test positive for Covid.
Sorting out these data issues is essential if we’re going to stop the spread of the virus. Secondly, we need evidence-based local (and national) lockdown criteria with the thresholds for when lockdowns will be lifted and reinstated; this will remove uncertainty and enable everyone to plan better, to feel more in control. Thirdly, we need to support those who are self-isolating to do the right thing – the furlough scheme and other financial support must be extended to anyone self-isolating. Fourthly, it is a nonsense that the Government removed support for people who are shielding. I have a constituent with secondary cancer in the most vulnerable category for covid infection; she was told to shield until 14th August only to have this removed by the Government on Friday. Words fail me. Finally, and linked to this, not only must there be clearer methods of communicating and cascading information, but clearer messaging; what does 1+m mean? It’s a nonsense.
People have been asking me why there’s been an increase in infection in Oldham and I repeat what many of us have said. The lockdown was lifted too early with the level of virus circulating in the community. 97% of infection is spread indoors; as soon as you allow people, who may be asymptomatic but have the virus, to be in contact with other households the more likely the virus will spread. As Oldham’s Director of Public Health has said, this is not about people ignoring the guidelines (although there will always be those who do, as we know). Between 26th July – 1st August Oldham has had 127 new cases identified, a decrease on the previous week total of 135 and we are seeing cases across all demographics. As we move the mobile testing station we would encourage people to get tested as we have been doing in central Oldham.
A state of emergency has been declared across Greater Manchester to ensure that we are able to draw down resources and work across all agencies as a single co-ordinated unit. I am working closely with Oldham and Greater Manchester officials to ensure we have the right measures in place locally and to also lobby Government on the issues that we face as a borough. I continue to be thankful to all our local agencies, partners and residents in Oldham who have done so much over the last 6 months or so to support each other and keep us safe. Thank you for all you continue to do.
Do continue to look after yourself and each other.
Debbie Abrahams MP
Oldham East and Saddleworth