How worrying is the Bolton outbreak?

Our analysis of the latest data, plus the rest of our Monday briefing

Dear Millers — we hope you had a good weekend, despite the downpours.

Our weekend read by Dani Cole transported us to a pondside in Castleton, where a group of anglers cast away their troubles. You can read that piece here.

This week’s weather

The big story: How worrying is the Bolton outbreak?

Top line: Greater Manchester’s Covid-19 case rate continues to rise, now up to 83.5, a rise of 42.7% in a week. That compares to 50.8 for the North West (up 34.9%) and 22.4 across England (up 5.9%).

What’s driving it? Mostly it’s still Bolton, which now has a rate of 430, which is more than seven times higher than any other borough in GM. The next highest are Bury and Trafford, whose rates are just under 60 but have doubled in the past week.

But what’s really driving it? The kids. The case rates among younger age groups in Bolton are astronomical. In the week ending last Tuesday (May 18th), the most recent week for which we have data broken down by age, the case rate among 10-14-year-olds in Bolton was 1,181. It was pretty similar for the children aged just below that and the teenagers aged just above.

The good news: Case rates are so far not rising much among older age groups, which tends to suggest the vaccine is performing well against the Indian variant. Here’s a graph showing the rate among people aged 0-59 in Bolton compared to the rate among people aged 60+. You can see that in the two previous waves, in November and January, new cases among the older age group were much closer to cases among the younger age group than we are seeing this time.

Last week, vaccinations were rolled out for people over the age of 18 in certain areas of Manchester. Invitations have been sent to people in Ardwick, Crumpsall, Cheetham, Moss Side, Levenshulme, Longsight, Rusholme and Whalley Range. The council says those areas had been chosen because they had seen higher case rates earlier in the pandemic.

The testing effect: How much of Bolton’s surge in confirmed cases has been brought about by a surge in testing? That’s hard to say, but clearly some of these cases are being picked up because of the massive testing resources going into the borough. This chart shows how much testing has increased in the past fortnight, compared to the rest of the year so far.

Bottom line: As always, what really matters is how case rates translate into hospitalisations and serious illness. So far, and it’s a bit early to make any definitive judgement on this one, there is nothing that suggests we should be overly alarmed.

  • Last week, the hospital numbers in Bolton weren’t showing any signs of shooting up. Bolton NHS Foundation Trust reported five patients in mechanical ventilation beds last Tuesday (the most recent day for which there is data).

  • That’s up from three the week before and up from two in late April. In January there were 13 such patients.


Other local news in brief

  • Rochdale has been awarded £17m from the Future High Streets fund, the MEN reports. It’s the third-highest amount of the 57 local authorities that were offered funding. The money will be used for phase two of the Riverside development.

  • Five luxury million-pound mansions in Grundy Farm, Bolton are set to be demolished after appeals to the Planning Inspectorate were rejected. The houses were built in the wrong locations and deviated from original designs.

  • Ron Hill, a legend of running, has died aged 82. He broke four world records and was the first British runner to win the Boston Marathon. Hill represented Great Britain in the marathon at the Tokyo and Munich Olympic Games, in 1964 and 1972.

This week’s cartoon by Mill member and longtime Private Eye sketcher Tony Husband.

Home of the week

This bright, airy 2-bed end terrace house in Salford is up for sale for £150,000.

Our favourite reads

The Meteor: This piece takes us inside the protest at Ryebank Fields, where a group of occupiers have set up camp. “It is not just the wildlife and trees that the campaigners are concerned about. After MMU started to access the site to do gas investigations, asbestos was found on the land.”

Morning Star: We enjoyed this interview with Manchester Museum’s Dr Campbell Price, Curator of Egypt and Sudan. “For Price, how the ancient audience interacted with what are today museum pieces is a source of fascination.”

Aeon Magazine: This fascinating article wonders whether people can detect magnetic fields and navigate by them. In the late 1970s, Robin Baker a young zoologist at the University of Manchester investigated by blindfolding students and driving them into the countryside in the ‘Manchester experiments’.

The Guardian: This 2015 piece by David Goldblatt tells the remarkable story of how Ugandan prisoners created “what is surely the world’s most elaborate prison football league.” Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool all feature in this uplifting story about the “transformative power” of the beautiful game.

Vittles: For those who don’t follow his work, the food critic Jonathan Nunn writes for the website Eater and recently investigated the economics of food delivery for 1843 Magazine. On his paid newsletter Vittles, he has just reviewed the Trawlerman in Wigan.

The Mill’s baby sibling

This weekend Sheffield journalist Dan Hayes published a brilliant piece explaining why he has left his job at the steel city’s local newspaper The Star in order to start a Mill-inspired newsletter. He’s doing it in partnership with us, and his explanation of why he has made this move is well worth a read. If you know anyone based in Sheffield, please do send it their way.

Dan writes:

I know from my own experience how deflating it is to rush out stories that will “do well online” but don’t have anything to do with our core mission. The excitement I felt when I got my first job in journalism has slowly been replaced over time with sadness and the realisation that the career wasn’t what I hoped it would be. 

That’s why I was so excited when I saw The Mill launching in Manchester last year, and why I became one of its first paying subscribers. The Mill publishes lovely long reads about local stories and people and is pioneering a totally new form of local journalism: funded by paying members and focusing on thoughtfulness, nuance and building up the trust of readers.

They have shown that there is an appetite for high-quality local news that isn’t driven by clickbait, and over the Christmas holidays I started speaking to them about creating a similar newsletter in Sheffield, based on the same principles.

Things to do this week

Podcast | As Manchester bounces back, we enjoyed this episode from ‘We Built This City’ podcast which sat down with the “titans” of Manchester’s hospitality industry as they talked all things food and drink. Available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Literature | Salford-based Saraband Publishing is holding an evening of readings and discussion. They’ll be discussing Dutch author Saskia Goldschmidt’s latest novel ‘Shocked Earth’, which covers themes such as the danger of fracking and the neglect of rural communities. It’s online and tickets are free.

Theatre | Described as a ‘breathtaking fantasy’, Mill Hope Theatre is showing ‘Meet me at Dawn’ — streamed online on Wednesday, with in-theatre performances on Tuesday to Saturday. “Two women wash up on a distant shore following a boating accident. Dazed by their experience, they look for a path home.” Tickets here.

Art | On Sunday, grab a paintbrush and a glass of your favourite tipple — PopUp Painting is back at Northern Monk Refectory. This week’s session will be themed around Claude Monet’s Water Lilies painting. No experience needed, just a dash of enthusiasm. Tickets here.

Exhibition | HOME is showing Soul Journey to Truth’, an exhibition celebrating the creative talent within prisons, secure settings, and people on probation in the North West. It’s been produced in partnership with Koestler Arts, the UK’s leading prison arts charity. It’s non-ticketed, just head over.

Book of the week: Mancunia

Published in 2017, this is Michael Symmons Roberts’ seventh collection of poetry. Roberts, who was born in Preston, Lancashire, is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. “Mancunia is both a real and an unreal city. In part, it is rooted in Manchester, but it is an imagined city too, a fallen utopia viewed from formal tracks…”

Mancunian Miserere

As I walk west on Cross Street have mercy on me, O God,
for the cold of my fingers, the clam of my palms,
for the knots I have tied in my tongue and for their undoing,
for my constancy of inattention, for my inner tension and its ills

Letters to the editor

Thank you for the article about angling. It was beautiful to read, and it is good to see mental health being covered in such a compassionate and sensitive way. The portraits were also excellent. Annita, Salford

I absolutely adored your story about the long-lost memoir of a Manchester bookseller. It was lovely to hear about the two men who have worked so hard to bring the memoir back to public recognition, and despite the fiddly ordering process I will make sure I get my hands on a copy. “I was immediately struck by the unexpected detail and an apparent authenticity of the voice,” says Terry in your piece. So was I! Thanks for bringing this kind of thing to our attention. Derek, Whalley Range

Your visit to the museum dedicated to rust was great. But I have to correct the artist’s assertion that “In places like Manchester, everything gets “tidied away” by industrious street cleaners.” He only needs to visit the canalside near where I live to find plenty of old objects rusting away. We as a city need to be better at making our waterways beautiful and appealing. The tourists might not be so forgiving as we are about rubbish strewn around the towpaths. Cynthia, Wigan

Grist to The Mill: If you want to tell us about a story or pass us some information, please email or We are always happy to speak to people off the record in the first instance, and we will treat your information with confidence and sensitivity. Get in touch.

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