Coronavirus: Roads are no race track, urge GMP chief Hopkins and Andy Burnham in weekly media briefing

Mayor Andy Burnham addressed a mixed bag of developments in the Coronavirus situation following the fifth meeting of the Greater Manchester Covid Emergency Committee.

Although hospital admissions are down from this time last week from 52 to 41 per day, it is still too early in the pandemic to detect a trend in these figures.

Confirmed cases in Greater Manchester are up to 3,816 from 2,263, and Covid-related deaths have more than doubled, up to 592 from 279.

Despite these increases, the temporary field hospital at Manchester Central has eased the pressure on hospitals, meaning that bed occupancy has not drastically increased, and Manchester hospitals are still operating at around 55-60% occupancy.

Burnham recognised that increased hospital admissions may discourage people from calling emergency services for non-covid related incidents or conditions, but encouraged people not to refrain from calling 999 or 111 if they are in need of help.

Burnham thanked medical workers, especially those at the field hospital, for all the work they are doing to put Manchester in a strong position to deal with a situation that is likely to get worse before it gets better.

There has been a focus on elderly care homes in the press this week, with the Government under fire for its poor handling of the social care sector.

Unfortunately, Manchester care homes are being hit hard by the coronavirus. While last week, 83 care homes had confirmed cases of the virus, that number has risen to 183, with “clusters” of cases being brought to the attention of Public Health England.

The supply by the National Government of personal protective equipment (PPE) to social care homes has been irregular and insufficient, meaning that care workers lack certainty that their supplies will last more than a day at a time.

Burnham said “we cannot continue to operate in this way”, calling the Government’s supply of PPE to the care sector in Manchester “faltering”.

However, Greater Manchester have expanded testing capabilities, establishing test centres in Rochdale, and at AJ Bell stadium in Salford.

Although the Council has concerns about fraud in the furloughing system, with some businesses apparently misusing the financial aid schemes, the Greater Manchester Police (GMP) are tightening the screws, and clamping down on abuse of the scheme.

Mayor Burnham is also disappointed in the lack of development in the Government’s financial aid packages, and fears that too many are not being taken into account by Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s policies.

He claims there are three clear gaps: those who were employed after February 28 and are not eligible for furlough; the recently self-employed (almost 9,000 in GM) who only have recourse to universal credit; and those who work in close quarters, for start-ups, for example.

The Chief Constable of the GMP, Ian Hopkins, was able to offer an update on Police activity.

For the second weekend running, the police were called out to deal with over 1,000 incidents of people flaunting national guidelines, including repeat offenders.

The demographic most likely to flaunt guidelines and take up police time is, perhaps unsurprisingly, men aged 18-34.

Chief Constable Hopkins raised some examples of extremely disappointing anti-social behaviour, including citizens spitting at police officers and paramedics, which even in the best of times is a minor form of assault, but could now be life-threatening.

Speeding incidents also continued to be a big concern, since roads are comparatively empty due to lockdown measures.

In the first week of April, over 1,000 people were caught speeding in 30mph zones, with a record speed of 81mph in a 30. Meanwhile, 264 people were caught speeding on motorways, with a record speed of 129mph.

Burnham and Hopkins addressed the temporary mortuary which opened in Trafford.

They said that it should be sufficient to cope with an increased death toll during the pandemic, but that, like Manchester’s hospitals and care homes, they are not receiving sufficient supplies of PPE from this Government.

Addressing the ways in which this lockdown may come to an end, Burnham said it was too early to begin to make definite plans, as the peak is expected to come later than initially thought.

Calls for staggered regional releases from lockdown – with some areas of the UK having lockdown measures lifted before others – would be unfair and untenable, according to Burnham.

Finally, both Burnham and Hopkins emphasised that although the lockdown is increasing pressures hugely, especially on the least privileged in society, measures must be kept in place for public safety.

Resources continue to be available online for those seeking official guidelines for businesses, people hoping to volunteer and do their part to help locally, and the latest official medical advice.

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