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On Monday night 55 Conservative MPs – led by former “northern powerhouse” minister Jake Berry – wrote to Boris Johnson to warn him the Covid pandemic “has exposed in sharp relief the deep structural and systemic disadvantage faced by our communities”.
They demanded “a clear roadmap” out of lockdown and “a tailored economic recovery plan” for the north. Without this, “northern constituencies like ours will be left behind’, they warned.
So how badly has the north been hit by Covid-19?
Covid cases and deaths
Since lockdown was eased at the start of July, the north of England – defined here as the north-west, north-east and Yorkshire and Humber – has certainly suffered much more than the south. On Tuesday, more half of the 207 Covid deaths announced by the NHS in England (121) were in the north.
Between 5 July and 25 October there have been a total of 217,074 cases in the north, compared with 181,614 for the rest of England. That is despite the north having less than a third of the whole population.
Jonathan Van-Tam, the chief medical officer, has said the reason the north was suffering more in the second wave “almost certainly relates to the fact the disease levels in the north, and certainly in the north-west, never dropped as far in the summer as they did in the south.”
Since the pandemic began, the north has also seen disproportionately more deaths. In the north-west there have been 8,503 deaths where Covid-19 was listed as a cause on the death certificate, amounting to 115.8 per 100,000 population.
The more sparsely populated north-east had 3,047 deaths, 114.1 per 100,000.
In London, where 8,693 people have died with Covid, that amounts to 97 per 100,000. By far and away the area least affected is the south-west, which has seen 2,946 deaths – 52.4 per 100,000 people.
Overall, although much of the focus in the first wave was on London, the north still comes out worse for cases for the pandemic as a whole, with 2,299 cases per 100,000 people, compared with 1,154.9 in the Midlands and 801.3 in the south.
Of the 285 mechanical ventilation beds occupied by confirmed Covid-19 patients in England on 1 October, more than half (158) were in northern English hospitals. Fifty-six were in the Midlands, 49 were in London, eight were in the south-east and two were in the south-west. A similar pattern exists for Covid patients not needing ventilators, with 1,190 being treated in the north, out of a total of 2,069 across England.
Hospital waiting times
Waiting times in hospitals across England have increased dramatically year on year as a result of the mass cancellation of non urgent surgeries during the first wave.
Guardian analysis of NHS figures in August 2019 and August 2020 found that patients in London and the south-east are now waiting the least average time to be treated — 13.3 weeks and 13.1 weeks respectively this year, compared with 7.3 weeks and 8.2 weeks last year.
Patients in the Midlands are now waiting longest – 16.1 weeks compared with 7.6 weeks in August 2019. Although the south-west of England has had the lowest number of Covid cases, its waiting times have almost doubled year on year, going from 8.2 weeks to 16.04 weeks.
In both the north-west and north-east patients are now waiting on average 13.9 weeks, compared with 6.8 and 7.3 weeks last August.
During the second wave it has been hospitals in the north and Midlands which have been cancelling operations and outpatient appointments to cope with their Covid caseload, including hospitals in Leeds, Rotherham, Bradford, Chesterfield and Nottingham.
Hospitality and the wide economy
Pubs and bars only have to close in tier 3 areas classed as “very high risk” and so far, these have only been in the north of England. According to the Altus Group, 5,060 pubs in tier 3 areas in the Liverpool City Region, Warrington, Lancashire, Greater Manchester and South Yorkshire have been forced to close unless they can operate as restaurants serving substantial meals. On Thursday Nottingham will join them.
Pubs can stay open in London for as long as it remains in tier 2, though socialising between households is only allowed outside in beer gardens and terraces.
Black and minority ethnic (BAME) communities
So far, no research has been published looking at whether BAME people in the north are more likely than their southern counterparts to succumb to Covid-19.
In England and Wales as a whole, Black African men have the highest rate of death involving Covid-19, 2.7 times higher their white counterparts, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS).
Anecdotally, BAME communities in the north believe they have been disproportionately affected, being more likely to work in frontline jobs and live in multigenerational, cramped accommodation in deprived areas.
At the weekend, the Bradford Council of Mosques announced its 100th member had died from Covid. In Oldham, one of the worst affected areas of Greater Manchester, more than 2,333 cases have been reported among the town’s Asian population, compared with 3,358 for the white community – who make up 77.5% of the local population.
The pandemic has pummelled businesses across much of the north and pushed claimant count rates to levels not seen since the recession that followed the 2008 financial crash.
Five “red wall” constituencies that turned from Labour to Tory in the 2019 election – Bishop Auckland, Darlington, Don Valley, Heywood and Middleton and Leigh – have claimant rates average 7.2% as a percentage of 16-64 population.
This compares with a 4.1% claimant count in Michael Gove’s Surrey Heath constituency and the same in nearby Esher & Walton, Dominic Raab’s constituency.
However the increases in the north have been largely the same as in the south – around three percentage points – showing that the pandemic has hit the service industries of the south as much as they have the north.
Data from the Department for Education for 15 October showed that school attendance was worst in pockets of the north with the highest Covid rates. In Knowsley in Merseyside, just 61% of secondary pupils turned up for class. In nearby Liverpool it was just 67%.
On the same day, 87% of high school students in London came to school, 89% in the south-east and 90% in the south-west.
Analysis from the North West Association of the Directors of Children’s Services, reported by the BBC, found that there were 710 teachers with a positive test for coronavirus in the north-west on 16 October – 35% of the total of confirmed cases among teachers across England on that day.
When students returned to universities in September, it was the northern English cities which suffered most as a result. Two weeks into term, 1,041 University of Manchester students had tested positive. A smaller outbreak at nearby Manchester Metropolitan University in late September was deemed serious enough to force 1,700 students into a two-week quarantine. Northumbria and Newcastle universities also had large outbreaks; as did Sheffield and Leeds. There were also large problems in Glasgow and Dundee, as well as further south in Nottingham.
Jobs based in workplaces in London and the south-east are much more likely to be possible to do from home compared with the rest of the UK, according to the ONS.
It says this is probably because of a higher proportion of people working in professional occupations in the region.
Data from Google Mobility, which tracks the locations people are visiting, suggests London has seen fewer people returning to workplaces than the rest of the country.
Source: The Guardian
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