Public health officials and politicians fear an uptick in Covid-19 cases across much of Greater Manchester is being fuelled by young people who believe they are immune to the disease’s threat.
One senior town hall figure said some younger people – particularly those around school-leaving age and in their early 20s – seemed to be treating tests in the same way as the morning after pill, socialising one evening before getting checked for coronavirus the next day.
“Actually we’d just prefer they took precautions in the first place,” they said of social distancing and other public health measures.
The region’s health lead, Sir Richard Leese, said spread among younger people was a key concern for public health departments at the moment, warning: “They are not immune.”
While hospital admissions continue to fall across Greater Manchester, infection rates in every one of the conurbation’s boroughs rose to a greater or lesser extent in the week to last Sunday – apart from in Rochdale, where they had been consistently high but have begun to fall in the wake of targeted local measures.
As well as increased spread among younger people, case numbers have also been linked to spread within multi-generational households, particularly in Manchester and Oldham.
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Oldham entered a form of ‘pre lockdown’ yesterday as numbers spiked sharply over the weekend, which saw the borough flagged as ‘red’ on the government’s warning system for infection rates.
Manchester and Trafford have seen significant increases in their infection rate over the past week, while in Stockport officials are also worried about an increase in positive tests among 18-25-year-olds, although the borough’s rate as a whole remains relatively low.
Manchester has seen three outbreaks in recent days in specific settings, with 33 cases recorded across a factory, a care home and a ‘hospitality’ venue, but council leader Sir Richard Leese – who also leads on health for Greater Manchester – said the bigger concern was community spread, which is harder to get a handle on.
“If you look at the figures, the good news is Rochdale has gone down quite significantly, so it would appear the measures they’ve been taking have been working,” he said of increased messaging and targeted testing stepped up by the council there nearly a fortnight ago after cases rose.
“Loosely speaking, if you put aside workplaces – where outbreaks are quite easy to contain – there are two categories of concern: large households in relatively confined spaces, and young people.
“ Trafford’s rise is predominantly young people and I think there’s a real issue here for us, where you can see young people thinking basically they’re immune – and that if they do catch it it won’t be too serious.”
Trafford’s infection rate shot up from 8.8 cases per 100,000 in the week to July 18, according to figures released by Andy Burnham last Wednesday, to 36.8 in the week to Sunday, overtaking Rochdale.
Around half of the cases during that people were among people aged 15 to 25.
It is understood the bulk of the new cases have been in the wealthier districts around Hale and Altrincham, to the south of the borough.
In Stockport, rates remain fairly low but saw an uptick over the weekend, with the borough’s chief executive Pam Smith yesterday warning of a rise in cases among young adults.
That pattern is not said to be limited to any one part of the borough and the council is now urging young people to observe ‘Covid-safe socialising’, backed by a new social media campaign.
In Oldham, too, public health officials have seen a rise in cases among 20 to 40-year-olds.
Sir Richard warned young people were wrong if they thought Covid was no threat to them.
“They are not immune,” he said.
“They may be less symptomatic, but even with young people there is a risk for some of them that they can cause themselves long term lung and heart damage.
“But the bigger risk is, going into a period where shielding is ending, the ability to transmit to more vulnerable people than themselves. That’s the big concern at the moment.
“You might be all right, but what about your grandma?”
|Infection rates per 100,000, by borough by week|
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In Manchester and Oldham in particular there are also concerns around transmission within larger multi-generational households, including among ethnic groups already known to be more at risk from becoming seriously ill with the virus.
Oldham has been trialling targeted asymptomatic testing for workers in some sectors over the past fortnight but it is understood take-up has been relatively low, so the council is now considering going door-to-door in those parts of the borough with higher rates.
Government’s Joint Biosecurity Centre is monitoring a number of Covid statistics in determining what kind of intervention is needed in individual areas.
It has red, amber and green ratings for boroughs on a range of measures, including weekly infection rates per 100,000 people and positivity rates – the proportion of Covid tests that come back positive.
Oldham is currently rated ‘red’ for its infection rate, which at around 54 cases per 100,000 exceeds the JBC’s red threshold of 50.
Giving an update to Manchester’s executive this afternoon, the city’s public health director David Regan said the positivity rate in Oldham is currently 5.5pc, Manchester’s is 3.1pc and Trafford’s 3.5pc, all of which are in the ‘amber’ category.
“However we are concerned, obviously, as are other parts of GM, that the trend is moving upwards both in terms of the number of cases, the weekly incidence and the positivity rate,” he said.
“Therefore we’re woking collaboratively across all GM directors of public health, sharing our intelligence about the measures Oldham – and now Trafford – will be taking.”
Oldham announced on Tuesday that its measures were being stepped up to limit socialising, asking residents not to have social visitors to their home and requesting anyone who is shielding to do so until at least July 31. Strict two-metre social distancing is also being advised.
Trafford has also brought in a new mobile testing unit at the UA92 Academy in Old Trafford.