Is the January surge levelling off in Greater Manchester?

And the 'frustrating' vaccine roll-out

Good morning Millers — we have a bumper weekly briefing today, including the latest Covid-19 data, some great recommended reads, our first-ever obituary, a book of the week, our recommendation for things to do and some stunning winter photos.

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If you missed our weekend read, it was about the battle to survive on a locked-down high street, with great reporting and photos from our new writer Tom Taylor.

The big story: Hospitals under pressure

Case rate increases are slowing in Greater Manchester. Well, it’s a bit early to say that for sure, but that’s what the last few days of data look like. The fear was that rates would keep surging up to the levels being recorded in London and the South East, so a levelling off would be a huge relief.

  • Key number: 415. That’s the average case rate for Greater Manchester (the number of new positive tests in the past week per 100,000 residents) for the week ending last Wednesday. That’s still well below the English average, which is around 600. Some boroughs in London have rates north of 1000.

The intriguing question: Did we develop a bit more herd immunity than other parts of the country because we had a bigger second wave? “The northwest saw a lot of transmission in October and November,” epidemiologist Neil Ferguson told the Sunday Times, before explaining what percentage of the population might have been infected since the start of the pandemic. “They [people in the northwest] may well be up to 15%, 20%.” Nationally, he thinks it’s between 10% and 15%.

The concern now is hospitals. Last week Sir Richard Leese, GM’s deputy mayor and lead on health, said: “If our hospital system does not fall over in the next couple of weeks, we will have done well.” 

  • That comment came as he released numbers showing a notable jump in the number of Covid-19 patients in critical beds in our hospitals — from 92 in the week ending December 29th, to 119 in the week ending last Tuesday.

The key graph: As we said last week, this is the chart to keep an eye on. Greater Manchester’s ICUs will become extremely stretched if that critical bed number goes much higher than it is now. We update it every week as soon as the new numbers come out — expect the latest release on Wednesday when we will tweet it out and send out some extra analysis to members.

By our calculation, only 1.5% of people in Greater Manchester have been vaccinated so far (around 43,455). That’s actually less than the proportion of the English population which has been jabbed, which is about 1.9%.

  • Delays in vaccine delivery have been reported in Rochdale and “no deliveries of vaccines were made for at least 10 days since Christmas” in Salford, Local Democracy Reporter Joseph Timan writes.

  • When The Mill asked Andy Burnham and Sir Richard Leese why things weren’t moving faster, Leese said: “It is frustrating. We would like it to be faster.” Burham said officials had “a long, long discussion at the Greater Manchester Covid emergency committee” last week, and the mayor told us: “We all felt confidence in the efforts that are underway.”

Looking ahead: Vaccination is supposed to ramp up significantly this week. A mass vaccination centre opens at the Etihad Tennis Centre in Manchester today, one of seven such sites across the country. It’s by appointment only, and will initially jab over-80s and health service staff, who will be invited to book their slot.

Five stories worth reading

1. Why did Alex Rodda die?

“Alex Rodda was a thoroughly modern young lad, a gregarious, openly gay schoolboy whose short life ended violently in Cheshire woodland a year ago.” So begins a gripping MEN court report about Rodda’s murder, after his killer was convicted last week. It goes on: “The young man who bludgeoned him to death, Matthew Mason, 19, could hardly have been more different: a young farmer from an affluent, conservative, agricultural background who was ashamed of the growing realisation he might be gay.” Read the piece here.

2. A Bleaklow Moor rescue

“Four bungling plane crash enthusiasts had to be saved by mountain rescue after breaking Covid restrictions to walk for five hours in deep snow,” reports the Daily Mirror. It happened this weekend and it’s not the first time a rescue has been mounted for visitors to the crash site. “The group, from Manchester, had to be rescued when one of them became exhausted during the freezing cold walk while searching for the B-29 crash site near Bleaklow Moor, Derbyshire,” the paper says.

3. The North’s queens of crime

“Proving that women are smashing the glass ceiling in the criminal world too, two female gang leaders have been linked to the control of a large portion of the drugs trade in northern England,” reports The Sunday Times. “Shazia Din, 42, the matriarch of “Din OCG” — OCG stands for organised crime group — was jailed in July for 15 years after being caught operating a drugs network in Manchester. She used the Beauty Booth, a legitimate company supplying mascara, lipstick and body lotion via Amazon, as a front for her empire.” Read the fascinating story here.

4. Roughsleepers find a home

“Three years ago, Andy Burnham made what seemed to some a fanciful commitment: to find homes for 200 of Greater Manchester’s most entrenched rough sleepers,” writes The Guardian’s Helen Pidd. “Despite the early scepticism, the GM Homes Partnership has gone on to be one of the UK’s most successful homelessness projects, with 356 long-term rough sleepers given a roof over their head.”

5. Parking battle goes to court

“Manchester council is fighting a legal challenge over its decision to keep a 440-space car park next to a primary school - despite campaigners’ concerns that it would increase air pollution and impact on children’s health,” reports the MEN. “More than 12,000 people signed a petition opposing the controversial plans to keep the parking facilities at the former Central Retail Park open 24/7 for up to two years.” The application for a judicial review was heard by a high court judge on Friday.

Picture of the week

A worker excavates the historic remains of the Mayfield Baths, which have been uncovered as work begins on the creation of the city’s first new public park in 100 years. A team of archaeologists from the University of Salford is documenting the baths, which were opened in 1857 on what is now Baring Street, and were a vital public amenity at the centre of Manchester’s textiles industry. The public baths provided workers with access to running water for bathing and laundry. The building suffered bomb damage during World War II and was subsequently demolished.

Things To Do

Music | On Saturday, BBC Radio 3 is airing Manchester Week which is part of its New Music Show. You can listen to a pre-recorded concert from Manchester contemporary music ensemble Psappha, playing from Stoller Hall. Tune in here.

  • What’s in store? Psappha, who are based in Ancoats, are renowned for their “technical assurance and interpretive flair.” Get a flavour here.

Books | Tomorrow you can listen to Helen Monks Takhar talk to Helen Nugent about her debut thriller Precious You. Manchester City of Literature have compiled a list of online events taking place over 12 - 14 January. Peruse at your leisure here.

Film | HOME is showing ‘Patrick’, a film about a 38-year-old handyman working at his parents’ naturist camp (that’s him in the picture above). “When his prize hammer is stolen, Patrick’s quest to solve the mystery of its theft leads to a much deeper mystery – who is he himself?”

  • We think it’s certainly something to take the mind off our current situation, but it goes without saying, expect nudity from the outset. Flemish with English subtitles. You can rent it here.

Podcast | The University of Manchester has posted an interesting series of “lockdown lectures” during the past year, in which a line-up of academics talk about their research interests and passions for about ten minutes.

  • We love: Episode 11 by Professor Dan Davis about how our immune system works, and why it’s so important that everyone has varying— and uncorrelated — immunity to different diseases. Find it wherever you get your podcasts.

View of the past

This view of the Manchester Ship Canal was printed in 1900 shows a large mound behind the passing boat. That is Mount Manisty, now a fully vegetated 100 ft-high hillock just northwest of Ellesmere Port in Cheshire, which teems with wildlife and is extremely popular with bird watchers. It was created from earth excavated during the building of the canal, in the years just before the print was published. The image comes from a great online shop run by one of our members, which has lots of original prints and maps of Manchester, Salford and other bits of the North West.

Letters page

Thanks for highlighting the plight of the Crucifixion mural in Oldham. It absolutely should be saved, as should lots of our closed down churches. They are some of the most beautiful buildings we have in our neighbourhoods, and we will miss them if they fall into disrepair and get pulled down. I encourage my fellow Millers to look up the Friends of Friendless Churches — a charity which restores unused churches and posts lovely stories on Instagram and Twitter about their rich histories. Some of the churches are near Greater Manchester, and lots are in Wales. Look up @friendlesschurches on Instagram. Margaret Eccles, Manchester.

This article (‘The story of a locked-down high street’) showed the resilience of the traders, who see the opportunity to engage with online markets in an effort to ride the storm. But what is the long game? Councils often rejuvenate areas with a shiny building, a cinema complex and another retail space six feet from the failing market — but this is ill-advised in my view. What we have enjoyed during the pandemic is a strong sense of community and the willingness to support local ventures. Perhaps then we need spaces that represent that. Areas to just sit and relax and chat flanked by small, short lets that allow pop-ups to try new products. Small bars and restaurants and an area of interest for children to encourage families. Our towns and cities need to evolve. Linda, Salford Quays.

Recently we got another confirmation that MMU is pushing ahead with its plans to sell Ryebank Fields, a rare city green space in Chorlton, despite massive local opposition. The area has been rewilded since MMU abandoned it as a sports facility in 1996 and is now a biodiverse wildlife haven with over 1400 trees and a variety of shrubs and grasses. It’s a much-loved local beauty spot. Despite having been gifted the land by Manchester City Council, MMU now wants to cash in. The fields have never previously been developed, they are classified as greenfield and should not be destroyed when there is an abundance of brownfield land available instead. The Friends of Ryebank are determined to protect the animals and trees that live here, and we hope some fellow Mill readers will join our campaign. Julie Ryan, Chorlton.

Your article about how a lingerie business in Greater Manchester is suffering as a result of Brexit was fascinating. Most of the coverage of Brexit has been too shallow. Yes, we know it has caused uncertainty. Yes, we know people are divided over it. But what this story did was show the unexpected, unintended consequences of changing our trading relationship with Europe and how little things that go wrong for a business can have hugely damaging effects. And who knew that Latvia was “the bra and knicker capital of the world”! I hope you will report back on Caroline and later this year and let us know how they are getting on. Stephen Fisher, Stockport.

We are always looking for interesting, funny, critical letters about our stories or other topics you think our readers should know about. Please write in by replying to this newsletter, or emailing Sign off with your name and where you live.

Book of the week

How could we resist a novel about a Manchester-based newspaper? We can’t. The paper in CK McDonnell’s The Stranger Times covers the paranormal and is “under the alleged leadership of an exceptionally rude, hard-drinking, heavy-smoking former tabloid editor…” Let the comparisons with The Mill end there.

Sarah Ditum takes up the story in The Times:

Fortunately it [the newspaper] also has actual leadership from a God-fearing office manager called Grace, and sundry misfits rounding out the crew. (Everyone is a type, but when all the types are funny and likeable, who cares?) The twist arrives when it turns out that The Stranger Times’s salacious retellings of accounts from “loons” might, after all, be something like the truth, and Manchester becomes the stage for a battle between (of course) elemental powers.

McDonnell packs jokes into every layer of his writing — narration, description, dialogue — and they always propel, rather than hold up, the business of storytelling, which is the real test of a comic author. He’s also got an enjoyable sense of the macabre; these dark forces are not messing around. There’s no disgrace in being formulaic when the formula is good, and The Stranger Times is ripping entertainment from start to finish.

The Stranger Times is published by Bantam on Thursday 14 January.

Mill of the week


Michael Apted was born in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire but he made in his name in Manchester. His directing credits include episodes of Coronation Street and the 1999 James Bond film The World Is Not Enough, but his name will forever be associated with the Up series, widely considered one of the best pieces of TV ever made. Apted joined Granada Television as a trainee in 1963, and the series was one of the first projects he worked on.

The Telegraph’s obituary explains more:

Beginning in 1964 with Seven Up, the series tracked a group of 14 seven-year-olds from different backgrounds as they progressed through life, returning every seven years to update their stories. It was Apted’s idea, but on Seven Up he was only the researcher (“I just found the kids”). From 14 Up (1971) he directed every episode.

Believing that the British class system remained largely undisturbed by two world wars, Apted predicated his films on the Jesuit epigram “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.”

With only three weeks to find the participants before filming started, Apted admitted the boys and girls he picked were “pretty arbitrary”. Nevertheless, reaction to Seven Up was such that Granada commissioned regular follow-ups that continue to this day.

Over the ensuing 56 years, Apted found the incremental nature of the project emotionally draining. He likened it to being head of an extended family, some of whom liked him more than others, some of whom he engaged with more. “As they get older, I am older,” he explained. “I have lived through what they’re living through. It’s more vivid but it’s also much more stressful to do.”

Michael Apted, born February 10 1941, died January 7 2021

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Coming up for Mill members this week:

  • Our latest Covid-19 analysis.

  • An academic studies the impact of Brexit on migrant families in the city.

  • And we find out what was going on in Manchester in the Roaring Twenties…