Greater Manchester’s Lockdown: The Impact
Although Leicester was the first region in England to experience ‘local lockdowns’, on the 3rd August a ‘major incident’ was declared in Greater Manchester due to a surge in positive cases of COVID-19.
The restrictions include that two households cannot meet in hospitality venues and people are unable to visit loved ones in care homes unless in exceptional circumstances.
Greater Manchester is made up of 10 council boroughs which covers a population of nearly 3 million people -one of the biggest areas in the UK.
As a result, experiences of COVID 19 vary considerably. As I write, Wigan will be lifted out of restriction measures on the 26th August due to having the lowest rates in the region. However, just outside of the region, parts of Blackburn (an industrial town) are still in the grip of these measures. However, restrictions in some parts of Blackburn have been eased which suggests that councils are being more detailed in their data. Pubs and restaurants will remain open as long as they follow guidelines on social distancing and hygiene.
Whilst some of these areas may not be familiar to readers, the area that has caught the attention of the national media is Oldham. Oldham has had the highest infection rate of any area in Greater Manchester. But on a brighter note, things have improved: latest figures highlight that the infection rate of positive cases has reduced from 109.7 per 100,000 to 83.1. This suggests that current measures are moving things in the right direction.
A major theme in the impact of this lockdown has been on race and ethnicity. Oldham’s population is largely White with the British Asian community making up about 20% of the population- mostly from the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities. Since Oldham imploded in the early 2000s with race riots, (that triggered further riots in Bradford, Leeds and Burnley) communities across Oldham have tried to bridge the divides.
However, COVID 19 had tested those relations.
Oldham Council reported increases of positive cases in areas which were predominately South Asian. However, Leader of the Council, Cllr Sean Fielding was quick to say that there are many underlying features behind this: South Asian families are more likely to live in multi-generational homes (which partly explains how most transmission is in the home); many are key workers which makes them more vulnerable to contracting COVID 19; high levels of poverty already exists in these areas.
Nevertheless, many in Oldham feel that the South Asian community is being scapegoated as driving the infections up. Oldham Councillor Aftab Hussain explained that his colleagues saw a woman in a Burka being racially abused in the street shouting that the community was responsible for COVID 19 cases. Cllr Fielding has also received letters from some of the public using racist language against the South Asian community.
Not only do these tensions seem to be tested further, a full lockdown (which is not necessarily out of the question for Oldham at time of writing) has been decried as damaging for the local economy. Oldham’s youth unemployment rate stands at nearly 16%- the highest in Greater Manchester which has been exacerbated by workers still not having returned to work since March. With industrial levels of redundancies almost certain in the UK once the Government’s flagship furlough scheme is wound down, this will be a challenging time for the community.
Cllr Hussain is also concerned about the future of local businesses.
‘A takeaway in my area decided to refurbish their shop during lockdown,’ he begins. ‘When they reopened in the first week, they took in £1300. Then about £2000 the second week.’
They were not making enough to be sustainable. He also reveals that he does not see many businesses reopening. This is backed up by This is Money who found in April that there has been a 50% jump in businesses becoming insolvent.
It is clear that the lockdown in Greater Manchester has implications beyond public health (even though that should be the main priority). The after- effects of lockdown remain to be seen- how will we emerge from this? With GDP falling by 20.4% (April 2020) – the largest fall since monthly records began in 1997- how many business will be able to effectively reopen? With many companies delaying ordering their employees to return their offices, how will cafes and shops on the high street return to earning pre COVID revenues? How will we stitch up our social fabric that has been frayed by fear and prejudice?
With Greater Manchester having one of the most diverse economies in the UK, (with specialisms in professional services, manufacturing and technological innovations as well as a vibrant cultural scene, to name a few) the effects of COVID 19 has acutely impacted these sectors considerably with the end unclear- it is suggested that unemployment could double, according to a Treasury select committee document.
But, if there is one thing that Greater Manchester is best at, its dusting ourselves off and putting in the work.