How fast the virus is spreading in each Greater Manchester borough

The latest case rates, and how young people might be driving the outbreak

Good morning Mill readers. You can spend this afternoon in a pub garden with people you don’t live with - that’s the new information we learned from the government as the guidance for Greater Manchester and other parts of the North was updated last night. There was significant confusion about beer gardens because the original guidance only mentioned indoor spaces in pubs and restaurants, and because the health secretary Matt Hancock didn’t seem to know what the rule was himself. Now the guidance says:

You can continue to meet in public outdoor spaces including outdoor seating or beer gardens in groups of no more than 6 people, unless the group includes only people from 2 households.

The other important thing we learned yesterday was the latest infection rates for each borough. Andy Burnham released his team’s calculation of the rates of positive tests per 100,000 residents for the week ending Monday, showing large jumps in Oldham and Trafford, and more modest increases in most of the rest of the area (see below).

As I wrote yesterday, these case numbers are contingent on how much testing each area is doing, so they are useful for broad trends rather than precise comparisons. No borough has anywhere near the weekly rate of new cases seen in Leicester, which recorded a rate over 150 in late June. Oldham’s rate is roughly a third of what Leicester had, but it’s the sharp increases that have spooked the Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and government officials. What matters here is the direction of travel, and I’ll keep sending these briefings with updated numbers and my best attempts to contextualise them until the new restrictions are lifted.

What’s driving the increases in positive tests? The truth is we don’t have a definitive answer, but we got clues yesterday. Public Health England doesn’t publicly break down its case numbers by age or ethnicity, but whereas in Leicester and Blackburn officials pointed to large outbreaks among the Asian community, we haven’t heard that kind of briefing from leaders in Greater Manchester. The WHO has identified young people as driving up infections rates in some countries, and it seems that could be a major factor in this area. “It’s the under-40s from the stats I’ve seen,” Cath Ball, Oldham Council’s deputy lead for Covid-19 response, told me last night, although she cautioned that she hasn’t seen an age breakdown since last week. She told The Mill she “isn’t optimistic about them changing behaviour” and describes herself as “pretty fearful”.

At Andy Burnham’s press conference yesterday, I asked the mayor and his top officials how big a part house parties had played in the increases, given how focused the new measures are on guests and private homes. Burnham deferred the question to Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council and a deputy mayor of Greater Manchester, who answered it in a way that suggested the question was on the right track. "We’ve certainly seen a significant increase in the number of younger people testing positive for Covid-19,” he said, adding that some young people were acting as if the pandemic was over. On parties and other social gatherings, he said: “We can be fairly certain that young people increasingly socialising in those sorts of ways will be a major reason why a far larger number of young people are now testing positive.”

If there is something you would like The Mill to ask Burnham and his team at the next press conference, please write it in the comments below or email me by replying to this newsletter.


A quick request: Please get in touch and tell The Mill about something interesting that has nothing to do with the pandemic. Someone in your area who deserves more acclaim for what they do. A local initiative that is working. An Iraq war veteran running an interesting business on your street. A headteacher who has turned around a failing school. An estate near you that was built as a utopian development when you were a child, but hasn’t turned out that way. Someone you know who has been let down by the police or social services. A key principle of The Mill is reporting stories that don’t appear in press releases, and I will often ask for your help finding them. Get in touch by replying or emailing joshi@manchestermill.co.uk. Based on the suggestion of an early Mill reader, I’ve just started working on a piece about the Yousef Makki case. If you have information or thoughts about it, please drop me a line.


Finally, something to read this weekend. I often recommend articles and podcasts about Manchester, but this weekend’s Mill reading recommendation is about a writer who lives in the city but reports on stories around the world. Mill reader Ed Caesar is one of Britain’s best magazine writers, and does most of his longform journalism for The New Yorker. Last year he wrote a truly chilling story about the British far right called The Undercover Fascist, much of which takes place in Manchester and the North. This week he has a story about an eccentric Dutchman living in a giant bunker built by the German military. Enjoy - and do send me your own reading suggestions.

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