Andy Burnham has warned against complacency following the news that a coronavirus vaccine could potentially be a matter of weeks away.
The announcement that pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and BioNTech had developed a vaccine more than 90 per cent effective in preventing Covid-19 was met with near jubilation earlier this week.
The UK has already ordered 40 million doses and a limited number of people may be immunised this year, with the most vulnerable expected to take priority.
Further safety checks will be needed but the companies plan to apply for emergency approval before the end of the month.
But the Greater Manchester Mayor has warned that the region is still facing what is likely to be its hardest winter ‘in living memory’.
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, he said compliance with restrictions would be crucial in keeping cases down and easing the pressure on the NHS.
And he stressed that there were still ‘hurdles to be crossed’ before the vaccine could be rolled out safely.
“It doesn’t alter the fact that we are entering into perhaps the most difficult winter we have ever experienced in living memory – not just in the NHS but Greater Manchester as a whole – in terms of the pressure that is on people and is going to be on all communities throughout this time,” said Mr Burnham.
“I think we mustn’t lose sight of that, we must keep our eye on the ball. The vaccine is encouraging but the effects will be felt in 2021 not in 2020.”
He added that it was only by following advice and guidance that people could take the pressure off ‘exhausted’ NHS staff and help make the winter manageable for them.
“On the most optimistic scenario for the vaccine it’s still not going to make that difference for the NHS until the end of January and I think people need to keep this at the forefront of their mind.”
He had the same message for the government, warning that it was still crucial to improve the test and trace system.
“We cannot make any assumptions yet that it’s our ‘get out of jail free card’. We must still keep focused on fixing test, trace and isolate throughout the winter and making it work as well as it can possibly work,” he said.
The Mayor’s plea for people to continue to abide by coronavirus restrictions comes after a weekend which saw hundreds join an ‘anti-lockdown’ demonstration in Manchester city centre, a 60-strong party ‘crammed in a very small flat’ and student parties in Fallowfield.
Fines of up to £10,000 have been meted out to organisers and those taking part in illegal events.
Speaking at the same press conference, Deputy Mayor Bev Hughes said that the anti-lockdown protest was ‘a reckless event’, which she condemned in ‘the strongest possible terms’.
While protests are not banned, Covid rules forbid more than two people meeting outdoors if they are not part of the same household. Different households cannot mix indoors except for in the case of support bubbles.
And Baroness Hughes warned that the rules would be enforced ‘very swiftly and very strongly’ if similar illegal events took place in future.
She added: “Not only is that a significant risk to public health, we are talking here about wanting to see – and seeing some indications – that rates may be plateauing or in some cases coming down.
“And it’s these kind of events that will challenge progress on that front. And also it takes police officers away from what they should be doing, which is serving the public in their local areas.”
Keep up to date with all the latest local and national developments here: https://www.questmedianetwork.co.uk/news/daily-coronavirus-updates/.