How infection rates are falling in big cities across England despite threat of lockdown


Coronavirus infections are now falling in some of England’s biggest cities, figures show – despite Health Secretary Matt Hancock threatening tonight to put many of them into the harshest lockdown bracket.

Official data shows Nottingham, Newcastle, Sheffield and Manchester are among the cities where cases have started to fall after a surge at the end of September, when thousands of students and staff poured back into universities.

Infection rates in all four cities have been steadily decreasing for several days, suggesting they are on a consistent downward trend rather than a temporary dip. Yet Mr Hancock warned tonight that large parts of the North of England are headed towards a ‘Tier Three’ lockdown.

Speaking in the House of Commons, the health secretary confirmed that talks had begun with local leaders in South and West Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, the North East and Teesside about joining Liverpool and Lancashire in the tightest level of lockdown.

The Government has also been embroiled in bitter wrangling with local leaders in Greater Manchester for days about putting the 2.8million people there into ‘Tier Three’, which would see pubs and gyms close again and all social mixing indoors and in private gardens made prohibited.

Mr Hancock told MPs: ‘Following the successful introduction of measures in Liverpool and Lancashire, talks are continuing this afternoon led by the Communities Secretary with Greater Manchester, and this week further discussions are planned with South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, the North East and Teesside.’

It comes despite official figures suggesting infections are already on the way down in many of the cities that would be affected by the economically-crippling measures. 

In Nottingham the rolling weekly rate of cases peaked at 1,001.2 per 100,000 people for the seven days to October 8 – the highest in England – but since then the number has been falling, currently standing at 787.6.

Manchester’s current rate is 432.5, after peaking at 583.5 in the seven days to October 3, while in Sheffield it’s 396.7, down from a high of 500.3 in the week ending October 7. The rate in Newcastle stands at 371.5, down from 553.8 in the same period. 

Although some of the country’s major cities are seeing infections tumble, the towns and boroughs around them are starting to see the steep increases, which may explain the Government’s keenness to lockdown in more areas. 

But experts have previously accused the Government of ‘jumping the gun’ with local lockdowns and not giving earlier-imposed measures enough time to take effect. 

Manchester's current rate is 432.5, after peaking at 583.5 in the seven days to October 3, raising doubts about whether ministers' plans to impose the harshest lockdown measures there are really justified

Manchester’s current rate is 432.5, after peaking at 583.5 in the seven days to October 3, raising doubts about whether ministers’ plans to impose the harshest lockdown measures there are really justified

In Nottingham the rolling weekly rate of cases peaked at 1,001.2 per 100,000 people for the seven days to October 8 - the highest in England - but since then the number has been falling, currently standing at 787.6

In Nottingham the rolling weekly rate of cases peaked at 1,001.2 per 100,000 people for the seven days to October 8 – the highest in England – but since then the number has been falling, currently standing at 787.6

Meanwhile, the figures show Sheffield's rate is 396.7, down from a high of 500.3 in the seven days to October 7

Meanwhile, the figures show Sheffield’s rate is 396.7, down from a high of 500.3 in the seven days to October 7

The rate in Newcastle stands at 371.5, down from 553.8 in the same period. There were fears the city could be poised for a 'Tier Three' lockdown earlier this month when cases started to spiral

The rate in Newcastle stands at 371.5, down from 553.8 in the same period. There were fears the city could be poised for a ‘Tier Three’ lockdown earlier this month when cases started to spiral

In other developments in the coronavirus crisis: 

  • The UK has recorded another 18,804 coronavirus cases today, a 34.6 per cent rise on last Monday. The tally of deaths has gone up by 80, 60 per cent higher than a week ago;
  • Wales has confirmed it is going into a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown, leaving England the only UK nation not to impose a form of the policy; 
  • England’s deputy chief medical officer has called for the nation’s 10pm pub curfew to be brought forward to 6pm 
  • A top government advisor said there is ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ as he predicts a Covid-19 vaccine will be ready by the end of March 2021

A surge in infections in the country’s largest cities coincided with thousands of students and staff returning to universities at the end of September, which undoubtedly helped exacerbate the virus’s spread. 

The most high-profile outbreak came at Manchester Metropolitan University, where around 1,500 students suspected of having Covid-19 had to self-isolate and not leave their accommodation for a fortnight.

Other cities with large student populations, including Exeter, Leeds and Liverpool – Britain’s first ‘Tier Three’ lockdown city – have also seen case rates fall in recent days. 

The figures, from Public Health England, suggest the rapid spread of Covid-19 among areas with a high density of student accommodation appears to have halted.

By contrast the places in England recording the biggest growth in case rates are no longer big cities but a mixture of towns and suburbs.

Areas with the largest week-on-week increase in the latest seven-day rates include Gedling, north-east of Nottingham (up from 216.3 to 385.9); Blackburn with Darwen (up from 357.4 to 482.3); Barnsley (up from 225.2 to 348.8); and Blackpool (up from 220.9 to 326.3).

BORIS WARNS GREATER MANCHESTER’S ICU UNITS WILL BE OVERWHELMED BY OCT 28

Greater Manchester’s hospitals are on track to be overwhelmed by October 28 unless the coronavirus outbreak is brought under control, the government warned today.

The region could use up all its intensive care capacity by that date, and demand will pass the previous peak by November 2, according to the latest estimates. Even the ‘surge’ fallback will be overrun four days later than that.

Downing Street highlighted the grim assessment, based on the SPI-M group’s ‘best case’ scenario that cases are doubling every 14 days, amid bitter wrangling with mayor Andy Burnham and local MPs over whether to impose ‘Tier Three’ lockdown.

Ministers have sent an ultimatum to Mr Burnham and mutinous MPs that they must do a deal on Tier Three lockdown today – or face being forced into the tougher curbs as early as tomorrow.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick warned that talks had gone on ‘too long’ and urged the region to accept a package of funding worth up to £100million.

Haggling is also continuing with Nottingham and Yorkshire over the possibility of shifting to Tier Three, which could put a total of seven million more people under heightened restrictions.

But along with the war of words with Mr Burnham and Labour, the row is also at risk of tearing the Conservative Party apart – as local MPs including 1922 committee chair Sir Graham Brady dismiss the need for the highest levels of restrictions.

There was a brutal response from ‘Red Wall’ MPs on Tory WhatsApp groups after colleagues from Tier One sent a letter to Mr Burnham urging him to ‘engage’ with the Government’s regional approach in order to spare other areas ‘pain’.

The intervention – which many believe was orchestrated by Downing Street – sparked furious private rows about an ‘all-round shafting’, with one MP reportedly jibing at another: ‘You just want a promotion and you’re happy to throw colleagues under a bus to achieve it.’

The largely rural borough of Charnwood in Leicestershire, which includes the town of Loughborough – home of Loughborough University – has seen its rate rise from 153.9 to 288.9.

One city – Bristol – has seen a notable jump in the latest figures, but its rate is still far below those recorded by the likes of Nottingham and Manchester in recent weeks, standing at 205.9 up from 99.9.

Overall the numbers suggest the geographical hotspots for Covid-19 in England may have tilted away from big cities and towards built-up areas that do not necessarily have densely-housed student populations – and that the virus is now being spread increasingly through community infections rather than circulating largely within student accommodation.

It comes as Manchester’s Mayor Andy Burnham has been sent an ultimatum by Government ministers saying he must agree to a Tier Three lockdown today after days of wrangling. 

The Labour mayor of the region has so far refused to accept the tightest lockdown rules for his residents, arguing that they will devastate local businesses and that they are being unfairly imposed in the North of England.

But he now faces a decision between bringing them in on his own terms of having Downing Street force a lockdown on the area, which includes Manchester city, Oldham, Bolton, Trafford, Bury, Salford, Tameside, Stockport, Rochdale and Wigan. 

The mayor and local MPs say there is no evidence going into the strictest lockdown would actually bring down cases and point to data which appears to suggest the outbreak in Greater Manchester is slowing, as evidence not to shut down.

Manchester city is the only area in Greater Manchester seeing daily infections drop, but outbreaks in Trafford, Stockport and Oldham have also stabilised, Public Health England figures. And the rate at which cases are rising in the other nine boroughs has began to decelerate. 

For example, Bury was reporting an average 108 cases per day by October 12, up from 97 daily cases the week prior, an increase of 11 per cent. This is down significantly from the rise between September 28 and October 5, when daily cases jumped 33 per cent from 73 to 97.

A similar trend has played out in the other boroughs. In Wigan, the rolling seven day average number of daily cases is 205 – which is up nine per cent compared the seven days prior. For comparison, this figure almost doubled from September 28, when it was 99.3, to October 5’s 188.

Rochdale’s is currently recording 149 cases per day, up by 16 per cent the week before, when it was 128. The week-on-week rise then was much smaller than the increase between September 28 and October 5, when daily cases jumped 59 per cent from 86 to 128. 

Although case numbers are still up week on week – and way above the national average in every borough – they are being used as evidence not to go into a Tier Three lockdown.

Official data shows the rolling seven day average of coronavirus cases in Greater Manchester has been falling in recent days

Official data shows the rolling seven day average of coronavirus cases in Greater Manchester has been falling in recent days

But the government warned today that Greater Manchester’s hospitals are on track to be overwhelmed by October 28 unless the coronavirus outbreak is brought under control quicker.

The region could use up all its intensive care capacity by that date, and demand will pass the previous peak by November 2, according to the latest estimates. Even the ‘surge’ fallback will be overrun four days later than that.

Downing Street highlighted the grim assessment, based on the SPI-M group’s ‘best case’ scenario that cases are doubling every 14 days.

Ministers have sent an ultimatum to Mr Burnham and mutinous MPs that they must do a deal on Tier Three lockdown today – or face being forced into the tougher curbs as early as tomorrow.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick warned that talks had gone on ‘too long’ and urged the region to accept a package of funding worth up to £100million.  

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