Please do your duty to prevent a full lockdown in Oldham

With Covid infection rates at worrying levels (107.5 per 100,000 people for the week end 8th August, up from 57.8 per 100,000 in the previous week) across Oldham, the Government has warned Oldham Council that unless the levels of Covid infection across the borough start reducing significantly, Oldham will face a full lockdown similar to Leicester by the end of next week.

No-one wants this; we are in the last chance saloon and we must all play our part.

Over the last two weeks this has meant:

  • Only socialising with people you live with in your own household or ‘social bubble’- NO visiting other people’s homes or gardens anywhere in Oldham or elsewhere.
  • When you’re outside your home, in other indoor public venues, for example in a restaurant or place of worship, you should not socialise with people you do not live. You may attend these venues with people you live with (or are in a support bubble with), but should avoid interaction with individuals or groups from other households.
  • Wearing a face mask over your mouth and nose when you are outside your home but indoors, for example, in a shop, place of worship, or travelling on public transport
  • If you have tested positive, you need to self-isolate for 10 days and everyone in your household needs to self-isolate for 14 days

As I have been out and about this week, I have observed too many times where this is clearly not happening. The case work I have received also reflects this. At an emergency meeting yesterday afternoon, Angela Rayner, Jim McMahon and I also asked for enhanced monitoring and enforcement of the restrictions in place.

So, from today, be prepared to be challenged and potentially fined for putting Oldham people at risk if you are not following local restrictions. We’ve been fortunate so far that the increase in infections hasn’t been accompanied by an increase in hospital admissions. But we can’t guarantee if the infection spike keeps rising and moves from the working age population to older people, that this will not happen in the future.

It is currently unlawful for gatherings of more than 30 people to take place at home or elsewhere, including weddings, funerals and other services, community activities and other events. Oldham Council is currently looking at whether this should be reduced in light of the persistently high infection rates.

Importantly, the Council is also working to provide support to those people who are having to self-isolate once they are identified as Covid positive or have been in contact with someone who has tested positive, so that they are not financially penalised. This was proposed by Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, in his ‘Help Out’ campaign launched last Monday.

I know that Andy Burnham wrote to the Health Secretary earlier in the week, asking that the proposals to ease restrictions elsewhere in England from Saturday should not apply to Greater Manchester, which I agree with.

Many people have asked me why Oldham is being so badly affected, with a racist few trying to blame our Asian communities. I am already on the record expressing my opinion as to what’s happening, and these are my views as a former public health professional: the pandemic has exposed the ingrained inequalities across our society. As the Oldham Fairness Commission has shown, Oldham has considerable structural inequalities, with a pre-pandemic life expectancy difference of nearly 12 years between the richest and poorest parts of the borough. We already know that people from poor communities are worse affected by Covid; is it any wonder when people are living in overcrowded housing where few have a room to themselves, making it nigh impossible to self-isolate from the rest of the household, that the virus affects many if not everyone in that home?

Professor Andrew Furber, North West Regional Director of Public Health England said earlier this week, that the level of Covid infection in Asian communities is unsurprising given the exposure of Asian key workers in health, care, transport, retail and other occupational settings which haven’t been able to work from home like so many of us.

On top of these inequalities, I’m afraid I think the Government has made some mistakes in the handling of the pandemic. Again, I have said we were too late to lockdown and too early to ease restrictions with the level of virus that was, and still is, circulating in the community. Given that we didn’t have a fully operational contact tracing system when the easing of lockdown restrictions was announced back in May, and that the World Health Organisation says this is a pre-requisite before the lifting of any restrictions, this was a massive error. Once the national lockdown was lifted, households were allowed to mix, pubs and bars were allowed to open and the confusing message to socially distance by ‘one metre plus’ was instituted , the virus was able to spread again without the public health weaponry to contain it.

On a positive note, I want to thank the majority of people who have been doing the right thing and observing all the local restrictions. I also want to thank our fantastic local public health team and other Council workers for all they are doing to identify and support those who have tested positive to self-isolate.

We can prevent a local lockdown if we all play our part.

Do continue to look after yourself and each other.


Debbie Abrahams MP

Oldham East and Saddleworth

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