During the first four months of COVID-19 affecting communities in Greater Manchester, we have had more than 16,000 confirmed cases and nearly 2,800 people have died.
Although the number of new cases is rising far more slowly than it was in March and April, people are still inadvertently infecting others, reinforcing how quickly one case can spread and how important it is that people follow the guidance about how to keep themselves and those around them safe.
Through our combined efforts, to date we are on the right track to contain this virus and move as quickly as possible to more normal work, school and social lives.
However, moving to this ‘new normality’ - one in which we will be living with COVID-19 until an effective vaccine is available - means we need to continue to work together, identifying new cases, tracing people who have been in contact with the virus, supporting those at highest risk and helping them to take the right action to protect others, and managing any wider consequences for our communities.
On the 22nd May, national Government asked all Councils to work with it to develop and share their plans for how this will be achieved in their local areas, building on the work that districts and communities have done to date. The Greater Manchester plan is therefore set in the context of the national strategy, including the Department of Health and Social Care’s ‘Test, Trace, Contain and Enable’ approach. This ensures our local arrangements are integrated with national systems.
In Greater Manchester, one of our strengths is working together, both as organisations and as the 10 districts to make best use of our collective skills and resources. Whilst the management of any continued transmission of the virus (and the impacts that this may have) rest with individual local authorities and their partners, by working together we can ensure all our local authorities; have access to the data they require to make effective decisions; can draw on additional resources and support for their communities if needed should there be an upswing in cases; and can escalate issues that impact across Greater Manchester – including escalation to Government if necessary.
This plan summarises the arrangements Greater Manchester has in place and provides a framework for 10 district plans. It has been jointly produced by organisations across Greater Manchester who are working together to tackle the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The development of the plan has therefore enabled a collaborative look across the arrangements Greater Manchester has in place to manage outbreaks of COVID-19 to ensure they are effective and will work to assist us all to address SARS-CoV-2. It builds on tried and tested health protection, disease control and emergency response protocols and processes.
The arrangements in place include ensuring that:
- We can create safe environments and prevent further spread of the virus as far as possible, including through non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as ‘social distancing’
- We have surveillance, intelligence and data arrangements in place which enable us to monitor the spread of the virus and quickly identify and respond to local outbreaks
- We have local arrangements in place to ensure that everyone who needs a test can get one, and that local contact tracing can be undertaken in a timely way to prevent further transmission
- Support can be made available for people affected by the consequences associated with the virus, including support through local community hubs for vulnerable people, such as those self-isolating
The plan contains examples of where we can achieve benefit through working together, including:
- Establishing the GM Contact Tracing Model and Integrated Hub which builds on existing regional approaches to Health Protection, bringing in this specialist staffing and resource within Greater Manchester where it can more effectively support and enable activity in districts and will also ensure that cross border issues can be dealt with in the most effective way
- Deploying mobile testing units across Greater Manchester for outbreak management and active case finding based on dynamic situation assessments in full consultation with public health leaders in Greater Manchester
- Addressing any outbreaks in secondary schools - the leadership being with the district in which the school is located but recognising that collaboration may be required since, on average, 50% of the students in a secondary school are drawn from other districts.
- Addressing transmission between different districts - where rapid spread might lead to significant outbreaks in multiple places. And then quickly deploying additional staff and resources needed to halt transmission.
The plan also allows for times where escalation of issues arising at a district level can be helpful. Our plan recognises the role of the Greater Manchester Strategic Co-ordination Group (GM SCG), a multi-agency group established within the UK’s statutory emergency response framework. The GM SCG can rapidly mobilise resources across emergency services and many other agencies that are needed to respond to emergencies and can ensure that these organisations work together effectively to deliver an integrated emergency response. The GM SCG is also in two-way dialogue with Government and is the recognised route for escalating issues in an emergency which require national attention.
This plan sets out the current arrangements in Greater Manchester. However, we recognise that the situation is rapidly changing; researchers and clinicians are working hard to understand the disease and the most effective medical approaches to combating it; the guidance, regulations and legislation are changing to reflect the disease prevalence; the impacts and consequences of COVID-19 in our communities are still evolving; and we are still all learning how best to live with SARS-CoV-2. Therefore, it is clear that we need to remain flexible and that this plan reflects a point in time. This plan should therefore be seen as a living document. We will keep it under review and will update it to reflect changes as the situation and the measures to test, contact trace, contain viral transmission and respond to the consequences of COVID-19 evolve.