Hospitals in Greater Manchester head into ‘freedom day’ with more Covid-19 patients than at any point since late March, the Manchester Evening News has found.
Data from NHS England shows that 363 patients were in hospital with the virus on July 13 — the last day data was available before most coronavirus restrictions are lifted tomorrow (July 19).
The last time the 11 NHS Trusts in the city-region had that many patients was on March 17, just after the government began easing lockdown rules.
On March 8, step one of the country’s ‘roadmap’ out of the pandemic kicked in, when children returned to the classroom and people could leave their homes to meet with one other person.
Since then hospitalisations have plummeted to a low of 102 on May 16, but have quickly risen with the advent of the delta variant — more than 200 people were in hospital one month after the trough, with the 300-mark coming up on July 9.
Of the 11 NHS bodies, Manchester University Trust is by far the busiest, with 146 patients on July 13.
Next up is Bolton with 58, followed by Pennine Care with 49.
Sign up to the free MEN email newsletter
Get the latest updates from across Greater Manchester direct to your inbox with the free MEN newsletter
You can sign up very simply by following the instructions here
It is worth noting, though, that the current wave of hospital admissions is still only about one-third of the winter peak, when trusts were caring for 1,118 on January 25.
However, the data will do nothing to dissuade local fears that the end to most Covid restrictions could prove disastrous for Greater Manchester as a whole.
One borough which is seeing the rules relax when rates are sky-high is Stockport.
Its figure of 485.6 cases per 100,000 residents, recorded on Friday, July 16, was the highest it had ever seen, according to its director of public health, Jennifer Connolly.
“Coronavirus rates are still extremely high and rising, with cases now at their highest ever, and even exceeding the highs seen last November,” she said in her weekly update to residents.
“Hospitalisations have increased and we have sadly seen six deaths in the borough in two weeks.
“Thanks to the vaccine the link between rising cases and hospitalisations and death has been weakened. Fewer people will need hospital care, and fewer people will die as a result of the level of cases that we are now seeing.
“This is great news, but we must remember that the link has not been broken entirely and more cases put continued pressure on the NHS and will sadly lead to more deaths.”
While Stockport is seeing the biggest week-on-week increase in its infection rate, up by 32 percent, it does not have the top rate of the ten boroughs.
That honour goes to Oldham, with 675.2 cases per 100,000 people.
Like Ms Connolly, Oldham Council leader Arooj Shah has urged caution ahead of the easing.
“We can’t blow it now,” Coun Shah said, adding: “Even though it won’t be law to wear face coverings in public places, and to socially distance, I’m urging Oldhamers to continue to do so after July 19, to keep yourselves and others safe.
“Coronavirus rates here are high, and rising. We are seeing increases in all age groups and in all areas of the borough. Now is not the time to abandon hands, face, space.”
Her calls to continue mask-wearing have been supported by Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, who has demanded the government to show ‘more grip and leadership’ and mandate the use of face coverings on public transport.
What these three statements tell you is that the rhetoric around the end to restrictions is not one of freedom — but unease, as public health teams are looking to rely on ‘good judgement’, according to Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick.
On Sunday, he said the current wave of infections may not peak for six-or-seven weeks yet, in early September.
“Cases are still rising, hospitalisations are increasing and we won’t really expect this wave of the virus to peak until late August, maybe even early September,” he told Sky News’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday programme.
He added that England is set to go through ‘some quite challenging weeks ahead’, before defending the decision to press on with freedom day tomorrow.
“We will all need to exercise good judgement,” he said.
“We are moving from that time when the state told you what to do, things were mandated as a matter of law, to one which had to come at some point where we trusted people, we trusted businesses and organisations, and gave them the information they needed to make good judgments.”