More lo­cal lock­downs on the way, ex­perts warn

The Guardian - - Front Page - Robert Booth Ian Sam­ple Ash­ley Kirk

Parts of Kent, Lon­don, north Wales and Scot­land are still deal­ing with sig­nif­i­cant Covid-19 out­breaks, spark­ing warn­ings from sci­en­tists and pub­lic health direc­tors that Le­ices­ter’s re­turn to lock­down will be re­peated.

Bars and res­tau­rants are pre­par­ing to re­open on Satur­day in what Boris John­son has dubbed “in­de­pen­dence day”. But in­fec­tions have risen in the Med­way, the Lon­don bor­oughs of Ham­mer­smith & Ful­ham and Eal­ing, and La­nark­shire and Dum­fries & Gal­loway in Scot­land, ac­cord­ing to pub­licly avail­able fig­ures re­lat­ing to tests by NHS and Pub­lic Health Eng­land lab­o­ra­to­ries. They are all ar­eas that have regis­tered an in­crease of 10 or more weekly in­fec­tions be­tween 18 and 25 June.

“I am ex­pect­ing there to be a num­ber of Le­ices­ters,” said Prof Deenan Pil­lay, a vi­rol­o­gist at UCL and mem­ber of the In­de­pen­dent Sage, which shad­ows the govern­ment sci­en­tific ad­vi­sory group.

“The base level of in­fec­tions go­ing on in the UK is still much higher than it was in other coun­tries in Europe when they started to re­lease their lock­downs,” he added.

Jeanelle de Gruchy, president of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Direc­tors of Pub­lic Health,said: “We need to be cau­tious on eas­ing lock­down be­cause we are not out of the woods yet. Le­ices­ter is a sober­ing ex­am­ple of that. It should make us cau­tious about be­ing too gung-ho in eas­ing dif­fer­ent mea­sures.”

In his ma­jor speech yes­ter­day, Boris John­son ac­knowl­edged the po­ten­tial dan­gers ahead. “As we ap­proach 4 July, I am afraid that the dan­gers – as we can see in Le­ices­ter – have not gone away. The virus is out there, still cir­cling like a shark in the wa­ter, and it will take all our col­lec­tive dis­ci­pline and re­solve to keep that virus at bay.”

The warn­ings come amid con­cern that some lo­cal

‘I am ex­pect­ing there to be a num­ber of Le­ices­ters’ Prof Deenan Pil­lay

In­de­pen­dent Sage

pub­lic health of­fi­cials are not re­ceiv­ing enough in­for­ma­tion about ex­actly who has tested positive for the virus and their ad­dresses, to en­able new out­breaks to be quashed.

One se­nior direc­tor of pub­lic health told the Guardian that data from cen­tral govern­ment was “patchy” and made deal­ing with out­breaks like “a game of bat­tle­ships” be­cause post­code data was not al­ways sup­plied.

Only since 24 June has de­tailed lo­cal positive-test data been pro­vided to direc­tors of pub­lic health in lo­cal au­thor­ity ar­eas.

“There are pub­lic health peo­ple in Le­ices­ter who are still un­clear about pre­cisely where the cases are,” said Pil­lay. “The data prob­lem has prob­a­bly spawned a whole load of other in­fec­tions, which could of course lead to deaths.”

A spokesper­son for the Depart­ment of Health and So­cial Care said: “We have been work­ing closely with our lo­cal part­ners, pro­vid­ing them with the re­sources and tools so that they can take swift ac­tion to deal with any new lo­cal spikes in in­fec­tions.”

The ex­tent of lo­cal in­fec­tion rates re­mains un­clear be­cause while the govern­ment pub­lishes data for tests in hos­pi­tals and pub­lic health lab­o­ra­to­ries, it doesn’t pub­lish the re­sults of com­mu­nity test­ing for lo­cal ar­eas.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­sults from hos­pi­tals and pub­lic health lab­o­ra­to­ries that are avail­able, Bed­ford, Barns­ley, Flintshire and Ham­mer­smith & Ful­ham were among the ar­eas with higher rates of coro­n­avirus in­fec­tion than Le­ices­ter in the week up to 25 June.

How­ever, be­cause the data pub­lished by the govern­ment is only par­tial, that does not nec­es­sar­ily mean their out­breaks are worse.

When the health sec­re­tary, Matt Han­cock, an­nounced the Le­ices­ter lock­down on Monday he used ad­di­tional data from wider test­ing in the com­mu­nity. This showed that once re­sults from home tests and mo­bile units were added in, the sev­en­day in­fec­tion rate was 135 cases per 100,000 peo­ple – three times higher than the next high­est city.

Han­cock said Le­ices­ter ac­counted for about 10% of all positive cases in the coun­try over the past week and that hospi­tal ad­mis­sions in the city were be­tween six and 10 a day rather than the one a day at other trusts.

The north Wales is­land of An­gle­sey is one of the worst-af­fected ar­eas with 216 cases now re­ported in re­la­tion to the out­break at the 2 Sis­ters poul­try pro­cess­ing plant in Llangefni.

Yes­ter­day Pub­lic Health Wales re­ported 17 new cases at Rowan Foods in Wrex­ham, bring­ing to 237 the num­ber of in­fected peo­ple in the work­force. A to­tal of 101 cases were found at a third food plant in Merthyr Tyd­fil.

The pub­licly avail­able data for Gwynedd in north Wales showed 83 cases per 100,000 peo­ple in June; in Barns­ley it was 45 per 100,000 in the month, in­di­cat­ing that other ar­eas had been tack­ling lots of in­fec­tions.

The fig­ures com­pare with Le­ices­ter’s rate of 41 per 100,000 over the month, but again the fig­ures do not in­clude the com­mu­nity tests that the govern­ment used to de­cide to reim­pose lock­down in Le­ices­ter.

Don­caster went from nine new in­fec­tions in the week end­ing 18 June to 31 in the fol­low­ing week, but that does not ac­count for com­mu­nity test­ing. Once this is in­cluded, the rate of in­fec­tion has been fall­ing grad­u­ally to about 21 per 100,000 peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials in the York­shire bor­ough.

The lack of pub­lic com­mu­nity test­ing data makes try­ing to un­der­stand the pan­demic like “fly­ing blind”, said Martin McKee, pro­fes­sor of Euro­pean pub­lic health at the Lon­don School of Hy­giene & Trop­i­cal Medicine.

“It is clear there are some parts of the coun­try where the epi­demic is still pro­gress­ing,” he said. “This means there is a need for a much more gran­u­lar and lo­calised as­sess­ment of when ar­eas can open up.”


▲ A man in Le­ices­ter wear­ing a pro­tec­tive face cov­er­ing yes­ter­day as the city faces lock­down

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