Oldham, which has had the highest number of CCP virus infections in the UK in recent weeks, will not be put into full lockdown, the town council leader said on Friday, following fears the town would be placed under more severe measures.
“We have reached agreement with the government that Oldham will not go in to full local economic lockdown. Some additional restrictions will be introduced, however,” Sean Fielding, Oldham’s council leader, wrote on Twitter.
The restrictions will include no social mixing between households in any setting, including outside in parks, public transport limited to essential use, and limited attendees at weddings and funerals, Fielding said.
On Wednesday, Britain’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock singled out Oldham saying he wouldn’t rule out any full local lockdown, sparking resistance from local government and townsfolk of the Greater Manchester town.
Greater Manchester’s mayor Andy Burnham asked the minister not to put new restrictions on Oldham, while the deputy mayor Sir Richard Leese said the measures are “causing more damage than they are saving lives.”
According to the latest weekly report (pdf) published by Public Health England, Oldham had the highest CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus incidence, with a seven-day infection rate of 103.1 per 100,000 people. The next highest number is 95.3 per 100,000 people, recorded in Blackburn with Darwen.
The northwest English town is one of areas currently under tighter restrictions. Sports and Leisure businesses are closed. Locals are not allowed to meet people from a different household, with some limited exemptions. Rule breakers can be subjected to a fine ranging from 50 pounds ($65.77) to 3,200 pounds ($4209.49).
Hancock on Wednesday told ITV News that he would not rule out a whole-scale lockdown “in Oldham or anywhere else in the country,” because the government would “do whatever is necessary” to “keep this virus under control.”
Hancock said that “these local lockdowns work,” citing the example of Leicester, the first town in England that was put under local lockdown seven weeks ago, just before the rest of the country enjoyed an easing of the measures.
The health secretary said the government gave Leicester “massive extra support and testing,” which he said Oldham is now getting.
Leicester’s infection rate has improved during the seven weeks. Some non-essential business such as nail bars, outdoor pools, and beauty salons were allowed to reopen on Wednesday.
Mary Eleftheriou, an Oldham market vendor selling bed and bath textiles, told Sky News that another lockdown “will destroy” her.
“It will kill the community altogether, not just the market. None of us can afford to be shut again, it’s just impossible,” she said.
An Oxford University medical professor said that the government’s base for local lockdown is “incoherent and unsustainable,” and that it should “back off” to let the test and trace scheme function.
Carl Heneghan, professor of evidence-based medicine at The University of Oxford, said on the BBC “Newsnight” program that the government made a mistake “looking solely at [the number of] cases” because a lot of people testing positive are asymptomatic.
Among the 1,250 people in hospitals across local health services, “only nine of them actually have COVID in a bed today,” Heneghan said.
It is “incoherent and unsustainable” to bring in lockdown measures when “you’re talking about a percentage of 0.0005 percent of the population,” he argued.
“The virus at the moment is circulating at a low level. Oldham should be allowed to let their test and trace system function and get to work.”
Heneghan suggested that promoting social distancing would be more practical than the current “whack-a-mole” strategy.
Sir Richard Leese, deputy mayor of Great Manchester and chair of the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, said that although actions are needed to bring the virus under control, “it is becoming more and more clear that some of the government’s measures imposed are now almost certainly causing more damage than they are saving lives.”
He highlighted the effects lockdown measures and economic deprivation have on people’s mental health.
“The economic situation continues to deteriorate and we know that being long term unemployed, deprivation is a major impact on people’s health and on premature death,” he said.
A recent report suggests that the number of people experiencing depression in June doubled the number before the pandemic.
Labour Councillor Arooj Shah told the Guardian that she’s concerned the lockdown measures may exacerbate racial tensions in Oldham, where a series of race riots happened in 2001, as most recent infections in the town have been among the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities.
“For those who have prejudices it is a really handy excuse. That’s why the step the government takes cannot be a blunt tool of lockdown for places like Oldham. Not only will it cripple our economy but the social impact will be absolutely huge,” Shah said.