Analysis: Rising local Covid rates throw Norfolk's Tier 1 hopes into doubt

Mobile coronavirus testing stations are continuing to visit Norfolk and Wavney towns. Picture: Sarah

Norfolk is not eligible for a new community coronavirus testing scheme because it is in tier 2. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

With one week to go until the Coronavirus tiers system is reviewed, some areas of Norfolk have a higher infection rate than when the second national lockdown began.

Norfolk followed the rest of the country into a second lockdown on November 5, and the rate of infections soared from 99.4 per 100,000 to 149.5 by November 13.

Infections then slowed with the rate back down to 99.8 by the end of the lockdown, slightly higher than when lockdown started.

In Suffolk, infection rates fell from 72 to 65.4 over the course of the lockdown.

But recent local Norfolk figures have thrown the county's hopes for Tier 1 status into doubt with worrying spikes in Great Yarmouth and Norwich.

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Public Health England data up to December 2 for Great Yarmouth returned an infection rate of 120.8 per 100,000, almost double the 66.4 seen on November 26.

Yarmouth's December 2 rate is still lower than the 175.2 seen at the start of the second lockdown, but a surge in Norwich gave the city a rate of 133.7 on the same date - far higher than the 82.5 seen on November 5.

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In North Norfolk, rates dropped from a high of 90.6 in the last week of November to 67.7 by December 2. But that still left the area with a higher rate than at the start of the second lockdown.

And in South Norfolk the infection rate once again crept up above 100, compared to 72.4 on November 5.

Those rates will need to come down if Norfolk hopes to enter Tier 1 in a weeks’ time, with the government previously suggesting only areas with a sustained drop in cases will be in the least restrictive tier.

Did lockdown work?

High rates don’t necessarily mean the second lockdown didn’t work.

People living in areas with lighter restrictions were able to mix freely before the lockdown, while areas in the North West of England that had been under much stricter restrictions since mid-October were already seeing rates fall as the country went into lockdown.

Surges in late November and early December could be explained by pre-lockdown infections working their way through the system.

Over 60s

Another key factor in deciding Norfolk’s next tier will be infections in over 60s. Test and trace data up to November 25 showed the percentage of infections was falling in the 60-69 and 70-79 brackets, but rising among the 80-89 and 90+ brackets.

Norfolk's local authority infection percentages remain below England’s 6.7pc, with South Norfolk’s rate of 5.3pc the highest in Norfolk.

Hospital activity

The Norfolk and Norwich, James Paget and Queen Elizabeth hospitals have all seen Covid admissions fall since the mid-November peak, when numbers reached heights last seen in May.

But the amount of beds occupied by virus patients at the NNUH remains on an upward trend, having risen from 22 to 75 from the start of the second lockdown to December 1.

At the Queen Elizabeth, the number of occupied Covid beds has remained steady since November 15.

Meanwhile the JPUH in Great Yarmouth has seen a fall in the number of occupied beds, though the recent rise in infection rates there could foreshadow a spike in the near future.

The number of patients on mechanical ventilator beds in all three hospitals has thankfully remained low, with the NNUH recording a peak of seven on November 22. In all three hospitals the numbers are dropping or remaining steady.

In all, 12 deaths were announced in the first week of December in Norfolk hospitals, the same number as during the first week of the latest lockdown. In the second week of lockdown the death toll rose to 22, but has continued to drop every week since.

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