The national lockdown failed to stop the spiralling spread of coronavirus in London‘s infection hotspot of Havering, official data reveals, because residents could not work from home and school outbreaks rumbled on.
Across the borough, in the east of the city, the number of Covid-19 cases almost doubled between the end of October and December 5, surging from 208.4 to 379.5 positive tests per 100,000 residents.
And breaking it into smaller areas reveals Romford and Hornchurch are at the epicentre, after cases there surged uncontrollably over the four-week shutdown where pubs, restaurants and shops were forced to bolt their doors.
In Romford North infections surged eight-fold from 64.3 to 556.9 per 100,000, Department of Health figures reveal. And in Central Romford they rose seven times over, rocketing from 58.3 to 456.6 per 100,000.
Only three of the 30 areas of Havering actually saw infections fall, while data shows almost half saw their infections double from the end of October to three days after lockdown.
The borough’s director of public health, Dr Mark Ansell, today said schools – which were not shuttered during the lockdown – were behind the fastest increases in infections, but added that rates had also remained ‘stable’ in working adults because many needed to work and couldn’t afford to self-isolate.
Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious diseases expert from the University of East Anglia, also told MailOnline the spike may have been triggered by schools and warned that the virus was now spreading to people who are more at risk of falling seriously ill if they catch it.
Some Romford residents today said they weren’t surprised their borough was at the centre as they see people not wearing masks, but others insisted they were ‘baffled’ and that people normally follow the rules.
One cab driver said ‘no-one takes any notice of the rules’ while a retired businessman in the area said people had ‘lost interest in social distancing’.
Covid-19 cases are still ticking upwards across the capital and PHE data showed they are higher than in any other region of the country, with the capital staring down the barrel of Tier Three from next week.
It is in stark contrast to the North of England – mostly under Tier Three – and the South West, where infections have continued to fall almost a week after lockdown.
Above are the five areas of Romford that saw the biggest surge in infections between October 31 and December 5, which covers the four-week lockdown period
Infection rates in Havering have surged in recent weeks as the borough’s director of public health said lockdown had a ‘short-lived and minor’ impact in the area (Pictured: Shoppers on Romford high street)
Romford high street pictured today. Some locals said many residents were struggling to follow mask wearing and social distancing, but others insisted they hadn’t seen anyone breaking the rules
Infections in Havering and the surrounding area on December 6, the most recent date for which data is available (left), and in the same area before lockdown on October 31 (right)
Infection rates have surged all over Havering in the past month and more than doubled in some places, such as Central Romford and Upminster North
In Havering, the third highest rise in infections was recorded in Rainham East and Wennington, where they went up almost four-fold from 123.2 to 462 per 100,000.
In Hornchurch they surged more than three-fold from 112.6 to 375.3, and in Upminster North and Cranham West, they bounced up by 290 per cent from 153.5 to 445.2 per 100,000.
The only three areas to register a fall in infections were Hylands, where they dropped by 15 per cent, Dagnam Park and Noak Hill, where they fell by 17 per cent, and Rainham West, where they dropped by 25 per cent.
COULD PARTS OF THE NORTH BE RELEASED FROM TIER THREE?
Parts of the Midlands and the North of England could see themselves released from Tier Three lockdown rules next week as their infection rates dropped by as much as 45 per cent in the first week of December.
Cases fell by nearly half in Gateshead, for example, and by a third or more in Newcastle, North East Lincolnshire and Dudley – all of which were put into the toughest local rules when national lockdown finished on December 2.
Numerous areas across the Midlands and the North saw infection rates fall under the toughest Tier Three rules, while cases in the South – given more lax restrictions – have surged again.
London looks headed for Tier Three, while the rates of positive tests have also surged in Berkshire, Essex, East Sussex and Bath at the start of this month.
A shake-up of the current Tier system is due to happen on December 16, when infection, hospital and death rates will be reviewed to decide whether to tighten or loosen curbs across the country.
Figures show infections are rising in London and two other regions of the country — in the South East, where it increased from 142.2 to 160.8 and East, where it rose from 116.2 to 147.2.
All other regions of England recorded a week-on-week fall, with the South West reporting the lowest rate of 77.3 per 100,000, down from 91.2.
Dr Ansell said Covid-19 cases had risen fastest in schools over the four-week lockdown.
‘Our rate among working age adult has stayed fairly stable, particularly in that period during the second lockdown,’ he told MailOnline.
‘What increased was rates among secondary school children which is why we’ve now got this particular focus on testing in school age children.’
‘It’s our first approach at quite wide-scale testing, looking for asymptomatic cases, so you know to try and identify these.
‘We’ve also got Christmas coming up. We know that the R rate did increase in half-term. Obviously, that was a smaller break but when we came back there were higher rates of cases than the week before.
‘Children and young people were mixing certainly over half term, and cases were spreading.’
He said that there may already be around 4,000 people self-isolating in Havering due to the virus, a number that could rise as the virus spreads further.
Explaining that deprivation may also have led to the outbreak in Havering and surrounding areas, he said: ‘In Havering we’re much more sort of suburban, white British, and not as disadvantaged.
‘We’ve got loads of residents who need to be in work to be paid, we’re not typical disadvantaged but neither are we people who are necessarily salaried and working in an office with a lot of financial resilience.’
Havering ranked 13th for least deprived area in the capital, according to an analysis by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government published last year, suggesting that the borough as a whole is not particularly deprived.
Many places that have seen the worst outbreaks in the country have been poorer inner-city areas in Leicester, Hull, Manchester and Liverpool, for example.
The most deprived borough in the capital was its neighbour Barking and Dagenham, followed by Hackney, Haringey and Tower Hamlets.
Asked about whether the borough should be moved into Tier Three, he said this would not ‘necessarily’ put a lid on the spread of the virus.
‘The tiering arrangements – they do add extra value and control – but my assumption is children in secondary schools aren’t going to pubs in the borough so it doesn’t do anything about the high rates in schools,’ he said.
‘It would add value, but it isn’t necessarily the most targeted thing we could do. It may be that this intervention.’
Professor Hunter agreed that the rise in cases could be linked to children still being in schools over lockdown.’
‘The ten to 14 year old groups have certainly seen a surge, and the 15 to 19 year olds,’ he told MailOnline, ‘but there appears to be no noticeable change in the 20s and 30s – and it doesn’t look dramatic in other age groups.
‘Looking at the data it does suggest that in this as in London, that they were seeing an increase predominantly in secondary school children.
‘In many ways that’s not surprising as schools open during lockdown, In London you can see that lockdown had quite a dramatic effect on every other age group apart from teenagers but that now when you look at the data across greater London generally it looks like there was never any lockdown at all.’
Some Romford residents today said they see many people refusing to follow the rules.
Louis Tonna, 57, a taxi driver of 22 years, said: ‘No-one is social distancing, no-one is wearing masks. I’ve got so many masks in my cab and I get a lot of fares without them so I hand a lot out.
‘I come here to shop in the week and no-one takes any notice of the rules. It could be the secondary schools, the kids come out wearing masks but they just take them off once they’re out and they’re chatting and mingling.
‘They have Covid marshals here too but people aren’t listening to them, I have never heard of anyone getting a fine but maybe if they did it would shock them into complying with the rules.’
John Haley, 40, an antiques dealer, said there was no social distancing in Romford. ‘I went shopping the other day and if people were getting any closer they would basically be trying to enter me,’ he said. ‘It’s ridiculous.’
And Mick Tomlin, 71, owner of Romford Auctions Shop, said: ‘If you go out in Romford no-one wears a mask. People are so rude when you ask them to put a mask on, we had a person come in here and I said “sorry, you have to put a mask on” and they were so rude saying “no I don’t have to”.’
‘People turn so nasty and you don’t want to get into a conflict. We have also got an older population here in Havering.’
Graham Broad, 67, a retired businessman from Harold Wood, said: ‘I just think it’s the worst because people have lost interest in social distancing and what they should be doing.
‘I think the older people take more notice than the kids. I don’t blame them but when they had them back to school they should have been tested. I think it’s being spread more and more though the younger people because they don’t really seem to get affected. They don’t really get symptoms but they still spread it.
‘I think the only way we can deal with it is to go “bang” and shut this country down – nothing in and nothing out.’
Other Romford residents, however, insisted that everyone was being careful and sticking to the rules.
Ahmad Shuja, 39, a market trader and owner of Rugs Kingdom, said: ‘We can see people wearing masks but when we go to other markets we don’t so it’s confusing that the highest rate is here.
‘Maybe it’s to do with overcrowding. It’s a very busy town centre. I have noticed that there are a lot of people who are overweight so it could be that there might be more people who have other health problems – that could be a factor.’
And above is London broken down into areas, instead of boroughs. It shows that the outbreak is focused in the north-east of the capital where the Government is thought to be planning to roll out testing for schools
Graeme Gibbons, 55, owner of Penny’s general goods market stall – which he has been operating for 27 years, said: ‘We’re working outside in the market and people are careful and observing the rules and so I really don’t know why Havering could be the worst.
‘It’s just unfortunate I think. Somewhere has to be the worst and it’s Havering. A lot of people have been shut away for months and lots of older people don’t go online and have been coming out to the shops for the things they need.
‘I actually feel very safe working here. I have elderly parents and them getting ill is my worst nightmare but I feel okay about it here. Romford is actually a very friendly place so maybe that’s why the rate is so high here. Everyone is very chatty and tactile.’
Linda McDowell, 61, the owner of McDowell Pie Shop, said: ‘I don’t know why Havering is the worst area. Most of my customers have been quite good with masks and we tell them to stay seated and they do that which is good.
‘But there are a lot of pubs in Romford, not that any of them are worth going to anymore, so it might be that. It’s quite a populated area and it’s a mixed group of people so different cultures might have different ideas about how important social distancing is.’
The capital was named Britain’s coronavirus hotspot yesterday after official data showed it had the highest coronavirus infection rate in the country, surpassing many Tier Three areas in the North.
Infections have been spiking among children aged 10 to 18 in the capital at a much higher rate than any other age groups.
The case rate in the capital stood at 191.8 per 100,000 residents on December 6, up from 158.1 in the previous week and putting the city ahead of regions like the West Midlands – which are under Tier Three.
The outbreak is focused in the north-east of the city, with Havering registering the highest number of infections and its neighbour Barking and Dagenham the second highest at 319.9 per 100,000 on December 6.
Nearby Waltham Forest has the capital’s third highest infection rate, at 313.7, followed by Redbridge, at 302.4, and Newham, at 271.6.
Covid-19 infections in north-east London, including Havering, and the surrounding area on December 6 (left) and just before lockdown on October 31 (right)
The Health Secretary Matt Hancock has refused to rule out whether the city of nine million will be moved into Tier Three, amid mounting concern over rising cases.
Mass coronavirus testing will be rolled out in secondary schools in the worst-hit boroughs of London amid fears teenagers are fuelling the latest surge of infections in the capital, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said last night.
The launch comes after official data showed pupils aged 11 to 18 were fuelling the winter surge of infections in the capital and South East England.
The Department of Health said ‘hundreds of thousands’ of swabbing kits are being sent to the existing testing hubs, as well as 37 additional mobile units being set up.
Fifteen extra mobile testing sites will be sent to London starting today and over the weekend, with an additional 12 in Kent and 10 in Essex, to bolster capacity.
Where will school pupils and college students get tested?
The Government has unveiled more details on the areas in England where secondary school and college students will receive Covid-19 testing.
Staff and students at secondary schools and colleges in parts of North East London, South Essex and Kent are being urged to get tested.
The London boroughs receiving additional testing are:
- Barking and Dagenham
- Hackney and the City
- Tower Hamlets
- Waltham Forest
The Essex boroughs included are:
- Canvey Island
It is not yet clear where the tests will be rolled out in Kent.
The seven London boroughs involved in the scheme are Barking and Dagenham, Hackney, Havering, Newham, Redbridge, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest.
Five Essex boroughs will also take part – Basildon, Canvey Island, Brentwood, Harlow and Southend – but it is not clear where the tests will be rolled out in Kent.
Officials are encouraging all pupils, their families and teaching staff to start booking their tests, regardless of whether they have symptoms or not.
People can apply for the tests using the Government’s online testing portal and will be asked to visit a mobile testing unit in their borough.
Children under 16 need to be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Number 10 has still not revealed how often children will be swabbed and how many pupils it will affect.
But London’s seven hotspot boroughs are home to 640,000 children aged between 11 and 18, according to Office for National Statistics 2019 population estimates.
The five Essex boroughs have more than 55,000 pupils in that age group.
The deployment of the tests is an attempt prevent London and Essex being plunged into a Tier 3 lockdown — they’re both currently in Tier 2.
Covid infections are falling in most age groups but transmission is high in secondary school and college aged pupils.
As long as it remains high in these groups there remains a risk children will pass the disease to their parents and the virus will race through the population.
Kent is already in a Tier 3 but the county-wide infection rate is being inflated by a handful of districts with high transmission.
Officials said the 15 new mobile testing units in London will provide around 75,000 extra daily tests over and above existing capacity in the capital.
They added that an additional 44,000 home test kits will be made available for school staff including teachers to test before returning in January.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘We want to keep schools and colleges open, because it is right both for education and public health, but in the face of rapidly rising cases we must act to target rising rates in secondary school pupils.
‘From our successes in Liverpool and Leicester we know surge testing is safe, and helps us quickly assess where the virus is spreading most and take action to stop it in its tracks.
‘I urge every student, parent and teacher in these areas to step forward for testing – irrespective of whether they have symptoms.
‘While Covid-19 may be lower risk to children and young people, it still poses a significant risk to their families and communities.
‘By taking these vital steps, we can get on top of cases and help bring transmission of this virus under control now.’
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson added: ‘This additional testing capacity underlines this government’s commitment to ensuring that education is a national priority, because that is in the best interests of students’ progress, development and wellbeing.
‘I would encourage everyone eligible to access the testing and I’d like to thank staff for continuing to ensure that schools and colleges have protective measures in place to reduce the risk of transmission.’
Elsewhere, it was revealed that secondary schools and colleges in Wales will move online from Monday in a ‘national effort to reduce transmission of coronavirus’, the nation’s education minister said yesterday.
Kirsty Williams said the decision was necessary as the public health situation in the country was ‘deteriorating’.
The latest data in Wales shows that rates of Covid-19 have exceeded 370 people out of 100,000 of the population, with a test positivity of 17per cent.
The reproduction number – the R value – in Wales has increased to 1.27 with a doubling time of just 11.7 days.
The decision taken in Wales comes after schools in England were told they can take an inset day next Friday, so staff have a ‘proper break’ from identifying potential Covid-19 cases ahead of Christmas.
Mrs Williams said primary schools would be encouraged to stay open as ‘it is more difficult for primary and special school age children to undertake self-directed learning’.