The mayor of Greater Manchester will hold his third weekly coronavirus press conference this afternoon, designed to provide updates on planning and any issues that have risen in responding to the virus here.

Andy Burnham will this week be joined by Manchester council leader Sir Richard Leese, who now holds the health brief for the conurbation, to take questions from journalists remotely.

Three weeks ago the mayor announced that a weekly Cobra-style meeting of senior public sector figures would be held each Wednesday, to assess the ongoing situation across the Greater Manchester system.

Those meetings have focused on the most pressing priorities for the public and private sector here, including any perceived gaps in the national response that are creating problems.

Afterwards he has been providing updates to the press, previously raising issues such as a lack of cashflow for businesses and councils, a shortage of protective equipment for the NHS, police, care and charity workers, and concerns over firms remaining open when they do not need to be.

He has also used the events to announce help for the homeless and to provide updates on police call-outs to large gatherings and pubs that have been operating illegally during the lockdown.

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All homeless people have been offered a hotel room

Andy Burnham says his understanding is that everyone has been offered one, but they are now in the process of being matched.

More rooms are coming online this week.

He is hopeful that by the end of the week everyone will e in accommodation.

Public sector absence running at 15-20%

They are also asked about absenteeism within the system.

Currently we are running at absence rates of around 15-20% across the public sector in Greater Manchester, says Sir Richard Leese.

The expectation is that it will get worse rather than better before we see any long term improvement.

GMEX hospital is 'staffing up now'

Richard Leese says there is still capacity within the social care system in Greater Manchester at the moment.

It’s impossible to predict how long that will be the case, he says, as it will depend on the number of cases.

He says councils are not restricting what they’re spending on this at the moment, because government have told them to spend what they need. So they are doing so on the basis that they’ll get that back.

The field hospital will open at the end of next week, he says, with 500 beds available.

The chief exec and senior management team have been appointed and are staffing up now.

Burnham: if you can't provide the correct sanitiser you shouldn't be open

The mayor says there remains a loophole in the government guidance to businesses, which says ‘where possible’ social distancing should be observed in firms that do remain open.

But if you don’t have kit such as sanitiser, you shouldn’t be open, he says.

Finally, however, the GMCA will be celebrating later today the businesses that have stepped up, including firms who have converted to help the effort.

Concerns for part time workers

He also provides an update economically.

There is ‘a lot of misunderstanding’ on which businesses should and shouldn’t close, he says.

If places are not mandated to stay shut and can follow safe social distancing rules, that will be supported, he says.

Finally: there is a gap in government support for full time employees who have been put onto part time hours - they can end up worse off than full time workers who have been furloughed, as they are not able to receive 80% of pay via the government available for FTE workers who are temporarily out of work.

More focus needed on social care

There are issues around the willingness of care homes to take people who may have corona-type symptoms, he says, which partly links back to the lack of testing.

When we look at the whole equation here, there is quite rightly a lot of focus on hospital staff, he says, but ‘perhaps less so’ on the social care side.

GMEX hospital set to open April 12

There’s still an ‘enormous shortage of testing’ for GPs and other health and social care stuff outside of hospital, he says.

That’s a real concern.

A new, simpler test is expected but it could be a couple of weeks before that surfaces and we are probably still three or four weeks away from an antibody test.

The number of cases is now increasing ‘quite rapidly’.

We are sure the capacity we have got will be taken up as a result, he says.

GMEX hospital will be up and running by April 12.

It will be a ‘step down’ facility, to free up capacity in existing hospitals, not for ICU.

Sir Richard Leese: A third of GM hospital beds now taken by coronavirus patients

Manchester council’s leader - and the region’s health lead - is now providing an update on health and related services.

On hospitals, he says the figure as of March 31 of diagnosed cases was 901.

We know that’s an ‘enormous underestimate’, he says, partly due to the lack of testing.

Of those 901, as of yesterday 475 of those cases were in hospital; 94 in high dependency; 381 others in hospital

They’re taking about a third of all the beds we have in hospital. Elective surgery has been stopped so we still have around 40% of beds available.

Bus firms: worried

There is also concern within the bus industry, he says.

Transport for Greater Manchester is paying bus firms from today a significant part of what they were due in April.

We’re doing everything we can for bus companies at this time.

But he says they want to continue having conversations with the bus firms to make sure services keep running to hospital and other key sites.

Tram services to go down to 20 minutes

There needs to be more clarity on schools, he says.

It would be helpful to get clarity on which schools need to be open during and after the Easter holidays.

Finally, transport:

Patronage has dropped to low levels across the country, he says.

On Metrolink it is now under 10% of normal capacity with lots of empty trams.

From this weekend trams will be cut to a 20 minute interval.

Universities helping to increase testing capacity here

Testing is a, even bigger concern than PPE, he says.

The chief constable says one in five staff are out of action in GMP at the moment due to self isolation.

What he wants to get across to government is that GM ‘stands ready to help’ in the national effort on this.

Manchester University is working with other universities to mobilise staff and equipment to get that going ‘and increase the number of tests’.

PPE: 'Some progress'

Supply of PPE remains a ‘major concern’ although there has been progress.

On Saturday night they took delivery of a ‘large shipment’ for adult social care, he says.

And they’ve been trying to procure it themselves, with some success.

It is still a ‘challenging situation’, he says, but some progress since last week.

GM 'in a good state of preparedness'

Andy Burnham starts with an update on what came up at the emergency meeting that took place before this.

Greater Manchester is in a ‘good state of preparedness for obviously a very difficult month that lies ahead’, he says.

Colleagues have ‘moved mountains in the last fortnight’ so the region is prepared and organised.

He thanks the NHS, the care sector, volunteers and the private sector.

Conference due to start sooon

The idea behind the weekly Greater Manchester press conferences is similar to the daily Downing Street ones - a chance to provide an update on significant changes following a high-level meeting of politicians and officials.

It differs in that the mayor has also regularly flagged up gaps in the national response, particularly around issues such as testing, PPE, business support and guidance for the self-employed.

Last week he was joined by deputy mayor Bev Hughes, who is in charge of policing and provided an update around the kinds of things GMP have been called out to since the social restrictions came in.

This week he is joined by health lead and Manchester council leader Sir Richard Leese, so we can expect a focus on the health service, as well as a general round-up from the mayor on the region’s coronavirus response.

As ever this is tech-permitting, so if there is a delay to it starting, that’ll almost certainly be why.