Burnham slams rumoured October circuit breaker but says hospitals could become overwhelmed as winter approaches

By Helena Vesty

Andy Burnham says there is 'no support in Manchester' for a circuit breaker in October, as rumours swirl that the government could choose to align another lockdown with the half-term holiday.

But the Greater Manchester mayor's stance comes as he, along with public health chiefs, warn that the region's hospitals could become overwhelmed this winter as pressures on the NHS climb.

READ MORE: LIVE: Andy Burnham gives coronavirus update for Greater Manchester after winter plan announced

The mayor was joined by Professor Kate Adern, the public health director for Wigan, as he hosted his first Covid update press conference since the summer break.

The update follows the government’s plans for handling the pandemic during the autumn and winter, announced yesterday.

The government has denied any plans to instigate another lockdown, or a circuit breaker, around the October half-term, however suggestions continue to appear that Downing Street may yet make that policy.

The mayor took his press conference as an opportunity to vehemently oppose such a measure.

"I see quite significant practical difficulties going to an October circuit break," said Mr Burnham.

"The world has changed a lot over the summer - just to go straight back to, effectively, a lockdown situation would be a very difficult thing to do.

"It would have a very big impact on our businesses and the question would be, how effective would it be?

"If it was for one or two weeks, would it actually create a break in the transmission sufficient to change the fundamentals would be an open question. Possibly, I would say, unlikely to achieve what we would want it to.

"What I think an alternative should be, a return to more disciplined messaging."

Coronavirus infection rates (MEN)

Yet, the mayor says such discipline could be difficult to achieve despite Covid cases rising in number, as 'it's hard to put the genie back in the bottle'.

"We were never convinced about the move to allow people to choose whether or not to wear a face mask on public transport," Mr Burnham continued.

"We still think that is the wrong thing because it's hard to put the genie back in the bottle once you've taken those measures away.

"I think the best thing to do would be, rather than talking about a plan B, I would say take some of those measures now. To plan for the winter, we should be getting that discipline back with regards to hands, face, space - and obviously look at the potential for working from home as we go through the autumn.

"That has been made more difficult with the whole freedom day rhetoric a few weeks ago."

A year on from the localised lockdown of Bolton and health secretary Sajid Javid has not ruled out regional restrictions.

Again, the mayor says their experience of the prior local and regional lockdowns was poor, with minimal result, as people may be encouraged to leave their area for places where hospitality is open.

Regional lockdowns and their impact were not well understood in Whitehall, he says, and the disproportionate impact on places such as Greater Manchester has been significant.

Professor Kate Ardern, Wigan Council's director of public health (Copyright unknown)

Meanwhile, the pair of health bosses expressed their concerns around increasing hospital admissions as the autumn begins.

Coronavirus rates are high in Greater Manchester, says Mr Burnham, 'a little' above English average and high compared to last summer - and there has been a slight uptick in new hospital Covid patients, but overall, it's a 'pretty stable position'.

Nevertheless, NHS staff are bracing for a 'difficult' period.

"I'll sum up my concerns for the next few months as being complacency," says Prof Ardern.

"I think we have become a little bit complacent post-lifting of restrictions. I think we need to ditch that.

"We are moving into winter, we cannot be complacent and we cannot think that Covid has gone away.

It has been a year since the localised Bolton lockdown (Daily Mirror/Andy Stenning)

"We need clear, consistent communication. I think there have been confused messages coming out nationally, in particular, that we have to try and counteract locally.

"I'm worried about the cumulative impact of Covid rates increasing just when flu and other viruses are coming into play, on top of the existing workload for the system of non-Covid activity.

"Heart attacks, strokes, other non-communicable diseases which are high prevalence in Greater Manchester, like respiratory diseases, haven't gone away. They are still there. We need to manage those long-term conditions so we don't get acute admissions."

"My big concern is capacity in the system," adds the public health director.

"It is important to remember that primary care is trying to manage the rollout of significant vaccination programmes, which are big, logistical exercises which no one should underestimate.

"But at the same time, trying to respond to all the demands, rightly so, from the public around other health problems.

"If primary care is not able to cope, clearly that impacts on A&E, ambulance attendances, the hospitals.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid (Getty Images)

"It's a tribute to our hospital system and overall health and care system in Greater Manchester. Because we operate the hospitals as one big system, that does give us the ability to mutually aid.

"But my concern is that any significant rise in Covid then impacts on other emergencies, other elective procedures, particularly the elective recovery programme."

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