Fall in Covid cases slower in poor regions | Coronavirus

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The rate at which cases of Covid-19 have fallen since the start of the year is dramatically lower in the UK’s poorest regions than in wealthier areas, according to detailed analysis of government data.

The figures, verified by the House of Commons library and compiled by Labour from official statistics, show that the number of cases of Covid infection per 100,000 people remained markedly higher in the last full week of January in many poorer parliamentary constituencies than in more affluent ones.

Proof of sharp Covid divides across the country will make it more difficult for Boris Johnson to justify a swift easing of national lockdown measures. Scientists fear that if some areas have much higher infection rates than others, Covid-19 would quickly spread to less affected areas if lockdown were to end, putting the country back to square one.

In Preston the data shows that infection rates fell by 9% between the first week of January and the last full week of the month. This left the town with 357 cases per 100,000 people according to the seven-day average for the last week of that month. In Bradford West constituency the decline was 14%, leaving 274 cases per 100,000 at the end of January. In Rotherham the decline in January was 18%, leaving 291 cases.

But in better-off areas the decline was far steeper, leaving fewer cases. In Oxford West and Abingdon constituency, cases declined by 72% to an average of 137 per 100,000 in the last week of January. In Saffron Walden, Essex, cases fell by 72% to 237 per 100,000 by the end of January. In Surrey Heath the decline was 70% leaving 241 cases.

Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow health secretary, said the government’s failure to offer financial support to help low-income people to self-isolate had caused a huge Covid divide to open up.

“Given we’re grappling with new, more infectious variants, some of which may partially evade vaccines, it’s now more urgent than ever this is fixed,” Ashworth said. “Without decent financial help, transmission chains won’t be broken in these areas. People will remain at risk of illness while Boris Johnson’s promise to ‘level up’ lies in tatters.”

Johnson is facing intense pressure once again from Tory backbenchers to indicate when and how he will ease the lockdown, as cases fall and the number of people who have been vaccinated rises. Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers, said: “The government justified a third national lockdown on the grounds that NHS capacity was overstretched. The progress of the vaccination programme and the current rapid falls in infections which started in the new year are now feeding through to lower levels of hospitalisation. It is essential that we don’t see mission creep with constant extension of restrictions always being based on new criteria.”

Scientists warned there would be dangers if people made journeys from high-Covid infection areas to lower ones, including from Scotland into England and vice-versa. Professor Linda Bauld of Edinburgh University said: “The level of prevalence of the Covid-19 virus is already much lower in Scotland than it is in England and if that continues there will be problems.” Last summer Scotland had achieved significant reductions in case numbers but was affected by people returning from holidays elsewhere in the UK and by people from the rest of Britain taking holidays in Scotland. Many were carrying the virus and case numbers rebounded.

“If we don’t want crossing the border to become an issue again, we will have to tackle that in advance. We will have to get case numbers right down across the whole of the UK before we can even think about easing travel restrictions within Britain,” added Bauld.

Professor Martin Hibberd, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, also warned that even if hospitalisations, deaths and case numbers were to drop dramatically over the next few weeks, people across the country would still be at risk from Covid-19 for months to come. “Even when those who have past infections are added together with those that have had vaccinations, there will still be a very sizeable proportion of the country that have had neither and are at risk of severe disease,” he told the Observer. “We will still need to test, trace and isolate to be able to make a significant impact on reducing transmissions.”

In addition, opening schools could cause a rise in case numbers with some scientists warning this could push up the “R” infection rate by as much as 0.5. “I think opening the schools is risky,” said Professor John Edmunds, also of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

“If we only open the schools and do nothing else to ease restrictions, it is still likely that cases still start to go up. And so what would we do then? We would have to take some action, otherwise we will put the health service back under pressure. We are going to have to proceed very cautiously.

“In fact, the safest way to get children back to school is to vaccinate them but current vaccines can only be used on people over the age of 18. And that is a genuine issue. Younger people and children are at the end of the vaccine queue at the moment because we are focussing solely on preventing hospitalisations and deaths. It’s a moral and ethical question whether that is right or not and we need to debate that publicly.”

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Fall in Covid cases slower in poor regions | Coronavirus

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