'We can’t wake up today and all go snogging'

How businesses in Greater Manchester are interpreting the new rules on 'Freedom Day', plus the rest of your Monday briefing

Dear Millers — we had a scorcher of a weekend and this week looks set to be just as hot, with temperatures in Manchester reaching 29 degrees tomorrow (see the forecast below). We hope you are lathering on the sunscreen as you read this briefing, which looks at how local businesses are responding to the removal of most Covid-19 rules.

In case you missed it, our fascinating weekend read by Nicholas Booth took us back to when Manchester was visited by cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, exactly 60 years ago. You can read that piece here.

This week’s weather

Covid-19 update

  • Case rates: The case rate for Greater Manchester is now 596, up 22.2% in a week compared to England’s rate of 466.2, up 41%. The soaring case rates are overwhelmingly being driven by infections among young people. Oldham’s infection rate is now over 700, the highest rate in GM, followed closely by Rochdale and Wigan which have rates around the 600-mark. Bolton continues to have the lowest rate in the 300s. As our dashboard below shows, daily new cases are now higher than we saw in the January/February wave.

  • Hospitalisations: There are 353 Covid-19 patients in GM hospitals, with 59 on mechanical ventilation, if you add up the numbers for each hospital trust on the government’s data dashboard. The hospital trust with the most Covid patients in hospital is Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, which currently has 146 Covid of them, with 17 on ventilation. As of yet, we have not seen a surge in the number of patients in critical care comparable to previous waves.

  • Vaccinations: 1.4 million people in Greater Manchester have now had two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine, or just over 50% of GM residents (not just adults, but working from the total population). Stockport is the most vaccinated borough (56.7% of total residents have had two doses) and Manchester the lowest (40.8%). These figures were updated yesterday.

Go deeper: Why is Greater Manchester falling behind the country on vaccinations? Read the story — members only.

Grist to The Mill: If you want to tell us about a story or pass us some information, please email joshi@manchestermill.co.uk, mollie@manchestermill.co.uk or dani@manchestermill.co.uk. 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.

This week’s cartoon is by Private Eye scribbler and Mill member Tony Husband.

The big story: ‘Freedom Day’ in Greater Manchester

Top line: It’s so-called Freedom Day across England, with most of the remaining Covid-19 rules having been removed at midnight in one big swoop. There were long queues outside some Manchester nightclubs last night and many local businesses are now allowed to trade as normal, having been highly restricted for over a year.

What’s changed? The BBC has a good summary on its website, which says:

  • No limits on how many people can meet

  • 1m-plus guidance removed (except in some places like hospitals and passport control when entering)

  • Face coverings no longer required by law, although the government still "expects and recommends" them in crowded and enclosed spaces

  • Nightclubs can reopen

  • Pubs and restaurants no longer table-service only

  • No limits on guests at weddings and funerals and no restrictions on communal worship

  • No limits on people attending concerts, theatres or sports events

Masks on Metrolink: In most instances, mask-wearing will now be a personal choice, except on the Metrolink where it remains compulsory after Andy Burnham asked Transport for Greater Manchester to tweak its terms of carriage. Passengers who refuse to wear one when challenged could be fined £100.

  • Burnham has pushed for a government u-turn on masks on public transport, saying recently: ”I will ask people to put themselves in the shoes of somebody who is going by bus to have chemotherapy. I will ask people to put themselves in the shoes of somebody who has a compromised immune system.”

  • Bolton West MP Chris Green tweeted this morning: “It’s fair to say that a clear majority of travellers at Wigan North Western are not wearing masks and some of the mask wearers are just protecting their chins. People have an abundance of information and are making their own decisions which is good.”

Nightclubs reopening: Last night saw the return of nightclubs. “Clubbers themselves seemed unworried about the steep rise in coronavirus cases in recent days,” reported the MEN, whose reporters hit the town to chronicle the return of clubbing. The newspaper says many city centre operators have decided to continue mask wearing for staff and temperature checks at doors and reported:

Cruz 101 nightclub bosses were celebrating the lifting of restrictions by opening up until 8am on Monday. Inside people were packed onto the dancefloor to bop along to pop classics including Shakira's Whenever, Wherever, and Kylie's Better the Devil You Know.

Choice day? GM’s nighttime economy advisor Sacha Lord, who is also the founder of The Warehouse Project and has been campaigning for an end to restrictions on hospitality businesses for months, tweeted:

Polls show that a clear majority of the public doesn’t support the timing of ‘Freedom Day’, and that there is widespread trepidation about a return to normality when case rates are sky-high and large chunks of the population are not double jabbed. Tom Newton-Dunn from Times Radio said this morning that there is nervousness across government about whether the gamble of loosening restrictions so quickly is going to pay off. Meanwhile, business owners are worried about the “pingdemic” — the number of staff being told to self-isolate.

On the ground: “We can’t wake up today and all go snogging,” Gemma Carr from Mr Thomas’s Chop House on St Ann’s Square told us this morning. She said:

I’d say those staff shortages is probably the biggest problem we’re facing right now. A large section of the team didn’t come back after the opening, didn’t feel comfortable working in hospitality face-to-face all the time, and then even just getting the staff back that are staying with us from furlough, there’s a lot of anxiety.

Ben Deakin from the Vertigo Plant-Based Eatery on Cross Street told us that they will not be instructing staff or customers to wear masks, but says most staff members want to wear them anyway. “I want staff to go out, have a good time, mainly because we don’t know when restrictions will come back in place,” he told us.

Bottom line: The government has put the ball back in the court of businesses, who now have to decide how they want to guide and restrict their customers and local venues have been posting on social media about how they are going to proceed.

  • The club YES on Charles Street says it will offer customers a full refund on tickets if they are forced to self-isolate.

  • The Marble Arch pub on Rochdale Road posted on social media that staff will be wearing masks and says that while the NHS barcode will be available to scan at the entrance, they won’t make customers use it.

  • The Liars Club on Back Bridge Street has told customers: “Please consider each other — masks are at guests discretion and things will be different!”

Other local news in brief

  • A 19-year-old man died after getting into difficulty at Salford Quays yesterday afternoon. It is believed he entered the water to save his dog. GMP officers were alerted to reports of a man in the water at 4.40pm and a body was recovered a few hours later. Read more.

  • Patients from Manchester, Sheffield and Cardiff will be part of a UK-wide trial that will try and find the hidden lung damage of long Covid. Scans using xenon gas will be used to reveal damage that does not show up on conventional CT scans. Read more.

  • A GMP police officer has been charged with sexual assault and “misconduct in a public office”. 34-year-old PC Adnan Ali, who previously ran the Trafford Volunteer Police Cadets, has also been charged with “distributing an indecent image of a child.” Read more.

  • The Lowry has become the first hotel in the UK to offer botox on their room service menu after partnering with cosmetics clinic DermAssure. The prices of procedures being offered — such as skin peels and IV drips — range from £70 to £500. Read more.

Home of the week

This 4-bedroom Victorian house in Worsley looks like something out of an Inside No 9 episode and boasts a huge garden and a balcony. It’s on the market for £675,000.

Our favourite reads

The Sunday Times: A new story about Manchester’s fast-growing online clothes retailer Boohoo offers some insight into how the fast-fashion giant really operates. An email from the company’s CEO has emerged as part of a US court case that alleges Boohoo used fake sales and promotions to entice shoppers. Talking about the company’s CEO Mahmud Kamani, one source told the Sunday Times: “Mahmud is a market boy… he flies it so close to the wind on a lot of things.” Read more

The MEN: “Black and white timber clad properties line the tiny Cheshire village's main street, with beautiful topiary plants and flowers adorning the footpaths and the cobbled lanes which circle the majestic 14th century sandstone church at the village centre.” A nice article about Great Budworth, a quiet, picturesque village that we will definitely be visiting.

The Financial Times: The paper offers its analysis about Boris Johnson’s levelling-up agenda and the anxieties within the Conservative party about what that might mean for southern heartlands. Johnson says he wants a new breed of mayors to lead their local areas and “not just seek opportunities to point out differences between themselves and central government.”

VICE: We liked this piece about why Greater Manchester’s drug dealers are abducted and tortured for ransom. One dealer describes it as an “occupational hazard.” “You don’t see someone kidnap a billionaire’s kid and try and get money like that. It’s not about that — it’s always other criminals that are kidnapped.”

Things to do

Sweet treats | Micro bakery Baby It’s Choux is having a pop-up shop at MediaCity General Store on Thursday and Saturday. They’ll be selling delicious handmade choux buns and vegan cookies.

Jazz fest | Wing Commanders will be playing on Saturday, part of Hope Mill Theatre’s “Hope Fest” in the Northern Quarter. They’ve got an eclectic mix of Brazilian jazz, pop, swing and live looping. More information and tickets here.

Grayson Perry | An exhibition featuring six tapestries made by Grayson Perry is now on at Touchstones Rochdale. It’s called “The Vanity of Small Differences” and the tapestries follow the life of Tim Rakewell, exploring Perry’s “fascination” with taste and class. More details here.

Publishers’ fair | Our friends at Fly on the Wall Press are hosting the Northern Publishers’ Fair on Saturday in Manchester Central Library. The Poetry Business, Stairwell Books and Saraband are some of the publishers attending. Bring an extra-large tote bag for all the great books you’ll leave with. More information and tickets here.

Galettes | If you’re looking for a taste of Brittany, Maison Breizh, which is currently tucked inside Escape to Freight Island, does absolutely fantastic galettes (a type of French pancake). If you’re not sure whether to have dinner or dessert, there is a plentiful choice of sweet and savoury options (we recommend the Galette Paysan). More info here.

Livestream | On Thursday, Manchester Museum invites you to follow three security guards as they wander around the museum during their nightshift for “Hunger”, a performance that will ask challenging questions about the museum’s collections. Tickets here.

Join the band | Rochdale Light Orchestra is gearing up for rehearsals this summer after eighteen months of enforced silence and they’re looking for string players to boost their ranks. The orchester’s founder and conductor Revd Graham is a Miller and asks you to get in touch if you fancy joining up.

Letters to the editor

I too remember his visit. (‘A spaceman comes to Manchester’). My school organised a visit to Ringway (Manchester Airport) to greet him off the plane. But they only took the boys! My twin brother reported back to me. Perhaps an early sense of injustice leading to a lifetime of feminism! Moira, Didsbury

In response to the article (‘Can we justify the destruction of 250-year-old Manchester cottages?’) on the potential demolition of the Weaver's Cottages, in isolation they probably don't seem like such a huge loss to a historic city like Manchester. The problem lies in what has gone on over the last couple of decades. 'Regeneration' has turned the city centre into a very boring area lacking character and charm. Old traditional buildings make way for new tower block apartments sapping more character out of the area. The council is the problem, pandering to developers and giving them an easy ride in return for financial commitments. Of course it's a balancing act with the local economy and being sympathetic to the aesthetics of the city but we're in real danger of becoming the Birmingham of the future. If we are to continue as a tourist destination, who wants to visit a city to look at a load of vanilla newbuild apartments? That's why any remaining history, in my opinion, just needs to be retained at whatever cost. Adam, Prestwich