Coronavirus infection rates in England’s worst-hit student areas dropped by half in the first two weeks of October amid hopes that young people have been shocked into following social distancing rules.
Covid-19 cases among teenagers and people in their 20s were blamed for fuelling the fire of England’s second wave of the disease with numbers of positive tests spiralling after universities and schools returned in September.
Official statistics show that infection rates have been up to seven times higher in boroughs with large student populations than in the cities that contain them, but data now reveals that cases have plummeted in the five worst-hit areas even though none of them are yet in the toughest Tier Three lockdown rules.
In the University Park area of Nottingham, which had the most positive cases of anywhere in England in the week to October 4, the infection rate dropped by a third (32 per cent) the following week, up to October 11. However a staggering four per cent of the area’s 11,000 residents still tested positive in that week.
In Fallowfield in Manchester, the infection rate fell by a huge 71 per cent in the same time, from a rate of four per cent of the population testing positive to one per cent.
There were also drops in Endcliffe & Ranmoor in Sheffield (47 per cent), Hyde Park Corner in Leeds (39 per cent) and Shieldfield & Heaton Park in Newcastle (61 per cent). The areas’ percentage drops averaged 50 per cent in a week.
While Manchester and Sheffield will face the tightest social distancing rules – Tier Three – from this weekend, none of the areas above have been subject to full local lockdowns but cases appear to be declining regardless. All except Leeds are in Tier Two, which bans socialising indoors.
Ministers are becoming increasingly optimistic that worrying data about surging infections, hospital admissions, deaths and infections in the vulnerable over-60s have rattled young people into taking social distancing more seriously.
Graphs presented in a TV briefing this week by Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, showed that infection rates among under-30s have turned and are now declining. He warned, however, that the rapid surges in those groups in September have now ‘penetrated’ the older groups, who are more likely to die if they catch the virus.
And Matt Hancock told a weekly ‘gold command’ meeting of the Joint Biosecurity Centre yesterday that cases are now coming down among young people after weeks of continuous increases.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has resisted repeated calls from top scientific advisers for a ‘circuit breaker’ national lockdown and is sticking to his three-tier local lockdown system, which has so far imposed the toughest levels of restrictions on around seven million people in the North of England, particularly Liverpool, Manchester and Yorkshire.
Public Health England data shows that coronavirus infection rates in the five worst-affected areas of England in the week to October 4 have since plummeted by an average 50 per cent, with positive tests declining despite none of the areas being in full local lockdown measures
Weekly data from Public Health England shows that, of the areas that had the highest numbers of positive tests in the first week of October, there have been significant slow-downs in infections.
Where Nottingham’s University Park, Lenton Abbey & Jubilee Campus had 673 new cases in the week to October 4, this fell to 458 the following week. The equivalent rate per 100,000 people dropped from 6,108 to 4,156.
Although there are only 11,000 people in the area the per-100,000 cases is a standardised measure used across the country. The highest for a single city, town or county is 675 per 100,000 in Nottingham as a whole.
In Fallowfield Central in Manchester, cases fell from 542 to 158 in the same time, a rate drop from 4,536 to 1,322 per 100,000 people. The area’s population is around 12,000.
In Sheffield’s Endcliffe and Ranmoor cases fell from 435 to 230 (rate 4,311 to 2,279); in Hyde Park Corner & Woodhouse Cliff in Leeds new positives tests dropped from 377 to 231 in a week (rate 2,714 to 1,663) and in Shieldfield & Heaton Park in Newcastle there were 133 cases in the week to October 11, down from 342 (1,672 per 100,000 to 650).
Other student-heavy areas in the worst-affected parts of the country saw significant drops, too, including Rusholme East and Ladybarn in Manchester, with declines of 61 and 64 per cent respectively; Pennsylvania & University in Exeter (down 41 per cent); University & Little Woodhouse in Leeds (55 per cent) and Broomhall in Sheffield (22 per cent).
|Area name||Population||Cases, week to
|Equivalent rate per
|Cases, week to
|Equivalent rate per
|University Park, Nottingham||11,019||673||6,108||458||4,156||-32%|
|Fallowfield Central, Manchester||11,948||542||4,536||158||1,322||-71%|
|Endcliffe & Ranmoor, Sheffield||10,090||435||4,311||230||2,279||-47%|
|Hyde Park Corner & W’house Cliff, Leeds||13,893||377||2,714||231||1,663||-39%|
|Shieldfield & Heaton Park, Newcastle||20,450||342||1,672||133||650||-61%|
|Rusholme East, Manchester||12,950||325||2,510||126||973||-61%|
|Pennsylvania & University, Exeter||11,630||285||2,451||169||1,453||-41%|
|University & Little Woodhouse, Leeds||11,468||283||2,468||126||1,099||-55%|
Matt Hancock first blamed the second surge of new coronavirus infections on ‘socialising by people in their 20s and 30s’ and, in a bizarre comment last month, urged younger Britons not to ‘kill your gran’ by ignoring the rules.
Boris Johnson echoed the sentiment last month, asking young people to consider their behaviour ‘for the sake of your parents’ and grandparents’ health’.
But Professor Van-Tam warned the nation in a televised Downing Street briefing this week that the outbreak being focused in the young is no longer the case, pointing to troublesome data showing that infections are now ‘penetrating’ the older population who are more vulnerable to the illness.
He presented graphs showing that rates of the coronavirus among the young are now falling in almost every region of the country. Therefore, it is hoped cases in older adults will soon begin to ease as well.
Student-dominated towns and cities have infection rates 2.5 times higher than elsewhere, according to analysis by The Times, but this is down from five times higher a fortnight ago.
In the North East specifically, which only days ago appeared right on the brink of a harsher lockdown, infections among teenagers have fallen by about a sixth in the same time period, meaning the prospect of introducing Tier Three restrictions have been ‘paused’.
Manchester, however, will face the harshest restrictions from midnight on Friday after a week of bitter wrangling between the Government and the region’s Labour mayor, Andy Burnham.
In a ray of good news for the city, the council’s public health director today said that positive tests among 17 to 21-year-olds have plummeted in recent weeks.
David Reagan, who works at the council said the rate of infection among the young people had fallen dramatically from 3,350 cases per 100,000 people on October 3 to 568 per 100,000 now.
The number of people of all ages testing positive in the city has now been falling for 10 days in a row but there are fears hospitals in the area will become overwhelmed if the outbreak doesn’t come under control.
Coronavirus cases are being driven down because young people have been shocked into following lockdown rules, according to officials
Cases rising in all age groups in all regions, with teens and 20s now high but declining
Testing data from Public Health England, plotted onto line graphs presented during a Downing Street press conference earlier this week, showed that coronavirus cases are now rising across all age groups in the worst-affected parts of the country.
The second wave had initially been pinned to the younger generations, with people in their teens and 20s accounting for most new infections, but this is no longer the case and they’re now creeping into older groups as rates in the younger groups start to decline.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, said more cases among older people – particularly the over-60s – would inevitably lead to more pressure on NHS hospitals because those people are more likely to become seriously ill.
‘The infections that have seeded in the younger age groups are now penetrating the older age groups,’ he said.
‘This is most concerning because it is the penetration of the disease into the older age groups that gives the NHS significant problems.’
Graphs for all the regions show that infections among 10 to 30-year-olds have been the driving force behind the new outbreak, and continue to be so in most areas. In the North West, however, they showed that cases among people in their 30s and 40s have now overtaken those in teenagers, showing the creep into older groups.
The same trends, Professor Van-Tam said, are playing out across the country but are at different stages – in the Southern regions cases among over-30s are still comparatively low but could surge in future.
The graphs echo slightly older PHE data published on Friday which showed that the highest case rate for the week ending October 11 was among 20 to 29-year-olds, who saw 253 cases per 100,00 people.
It was second highest in teenagers (245), and then increased almost directly with age followed by those in their 30s (144), 40s (134), 50s (132), 60s (86), 80s (77), 70s (55), under-fives (42) and five to 10-year-olds (30).
It comes despite a SAGE scientist warning that huge numbers of deaths are still inevitable as the second wave continues to bite.
Epidemiologist John Edmunds, who is part of the Government’s scientific advisory group SAGE, said he does not believe the current three-tier system will work.
‘If you look at where we are, there is no way we come out of this wave now without counting our deaths in the tens of thousands,’ he yesterday told a joint hearing of Parliament’s science and technology and health and social care committees.
‘We are already at the point where the health service in much of the North will be under strain in the next few weeks,’ Professor Edmunds said.
‘Even if we stopped things now, cases and hospitalisations would continue to go up for the next 10 days [or] two weeks because they’re already baked into the system. They’ve already been infected but it will take some time to be hospitalised – and the same goes for deaths…
‘If we don’t take any additional measures, if we just leave it as it is, then we’ll see peaks in the North West probably within the next four to six weeks and then the rest of the country are weeks behind.
‘So we’ll see peaks around Christmas and the New Year of very severe numbers of cases throughout the UK. It’s slower and lower in the South West and South East than in the more urban centres…
‘That’s the sort of thing we’re looking at – very large numbers of cases, hundreds of deaths a day. I don’t think it’s going to reach the height of the epidemic in March and April – not quite – but in many parts it may already be quite similar’.
Department of Health data show that the second wave in Britain is continuing to grow, with 26,688 more positive tests announced yesterday, taking the daily average to 19,229.
The deaths of another 191 people were confirmed, a rise of more than a third (39 per cent) from the same day last week.
The Office for National Statistics estimates that around 27,900 people are catching the virus every day in England, its highest prediction since they began in May.
All indicators – across positive cases, deaths and hospital admissions, are they highest they have been for at least four months.
Professor Edmunds said that he fears the three-tier lockdown system – introduced this month by Boris Johnson instead of leaning towards national measures – will not squash the UK’s second surge.
‘I think we are not being as cautious as I would like us to be,’ he said.
‘I think it’s pretty clear cases have been going up quite fast. What worries me a little bit is where the strategy leads to at the moment.
‘So the targeted strategy, the tiered strategy, if you think it through – where that leads to is a high level of incidence everywhere.
‘Because let’s say that tier three works, and keeps the reproduction number at about one – I don’t think anybody really thinks it’s going to reduce it to less than one, so let’s assume it manages to get the reproduction number to about one.
‘That means that in Liverpool and Manchester and the North West now, [it] will keep the incidence at this high level, which is putting hospitals under strain and causing significant numbers of deaths, and we’re going to keep it at that high level now for the foreseeable future.
‘And then a few weeks later the Midlands goes into tier three so we then keep the Midlands at a high level of incidence for the foreseeable future, and then London is shortly after.
‘So what means, by logical extension of this, is that we all end up at a high level of incidence where hospitals are really under stretch and we have large numbers of deaths. So that, for me, is the logical conclusion of this strategy that we’re following – I would not follow that strategy.’