More local lockdowns on the way, experts warn
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
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