Latest graphs show big differences between coronavirus cases in north west compared to East Anglia

PUBLISHED: 08:08 21 October 2020 | UPDATED: 15:21 21 October 2020

Public Health England figures show the coronavirus infection rate is increasing in Great Yarmouth and Norwich. Photo: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

Public Health England figures show the coronavirus infection rate is increasing in Great Yarmouth and Norwich. Photo: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

The marked gulf between the impact coronavirus is having in the north of England compared to the East has been brought into clear contrast by latest government graphs.

But, amid concern over a recent surge in cases in Norwich and Great Yarmouth and warnings this region is a couple of weeks behind the rest of the county, community leaders have been quick to make clear there is no room for complacency.

Slides presented at a 10 Downing Street press conference on Tuesday, as prime minister Boris Johnson confirmed Greater Manchester will move into the to Covid-19 alert level, showed the differences between various regions.

Using the 60-plus age category as an example, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, told the conference case numbers per 100,000 in Manchester went up from 302 cases per 100,000 from October 1 to October 7 to 326 per 100,000 between October 8 and 14.

In the East of England that figure is far lower - estimated to be closer to 30 cases per 100,000 - although that figure has been creeping up.

Deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam. Pic: Leon Neal/PA WireDeputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam. Pic: Leon Neal/PA Wire

The statistics for the number of people in hospital with coronavirus is also markedly different. The slides showed that more than 1,800 patients were being treated in north west hospitals, while, in the East of England, there are fewer than 300 people in hospital, although, again, that number has been going up.

Norfolk is currently in the lowest tier (tier one) for coronavirus restrictions and Dr Louise Smith, public health director for Norfolk, previously said that, while it was not possible for her to predict if or when that could change, hospital admissions could be a key barometer over such decisions.

While Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has called for a national circuit-breaker to keep rates down and they have been introduced in Northern Ireland and Wales, Prof Van-Tam said he does not currently support it.

He said that at the moment, a national lockdown would be “inappropriate” for communities where there are lower rates of infection - for instance, East Anglia or Cornwall.

When asked whether the argument for a short national ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown was stronger or weaker than when it was recommended by scientific advisers in September, Prof Van-Tam said: “I think a national lockdown at the moment would be inappropriate for communities in Cornwall or East Anglia, for example.

“But it is a kind of scientific feature of the effect a lockdown - that if disease levels are higher when you effect lockdown, the effect will be less overall than if the lockdown had been inflicted at a point when disease levels are much lower.

“So I suppose what I am saying is that I wouldn’t expect the same magnitude of effect if one were done now as if it were done early in September or mid-September.

“But I repeat my point that epidemiology is so varied across England that I think it would be very difficult to justify in some communities.”

Deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam. Pic: PA Video/PA WireDeputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam. Pic: PA Video/PA Wire

Dr Smith has previously said that the rise in cases in Norwich was being driven by younger people, including students and the slides at yesterday’s conference reflect that.

But she expressed concern at a recent press conference that it was important to prevent the virus spreading to more vulnerable people.

And Prof Van-Tam shared that concern. He said: “I really want to emphasise that it is the over-60s that really worries us most because these are the people who become severely ill with Covid-19, they are more likely to be admitted to hospital, if they are admitted to hospital they stay in hospital for longer and sadly they are more difficult to save,” he said.

He said that infections among younger people are now penetrating those older age groups.

Dr Louise Smith, director of public health for Norfolk. Picture: Norfolk County CouncilDr Louise Smith, director of public health for Norfolk. Picture: Norfolk County Council

“This means that the hospital admissions and the deaths linked to those cases are now baked in for the next two to three weeks,” he added.

Prof Van-Tam continued: “Pretty much everywhere in England is now heating up to some extent and we are trying to walk a very fine line between getting the virus under control in areas where it is out of control and incurring the minimum amount of economic damage in doing so.

“It is clear that in the areas that are out of control, hard measures are needed.”

But he said that insisting the same measures should be put in place in areas where levels of disease are much lower would be inappropriate.

Prof Van-Tam added: “We just can’t afford just to let our elderly die.

“And we can’t afford to allow our NHS to be completely consumed by looking after Covid, so it can’t do its other businesses as usual.

“So we’ll have to take as tough measures as are necessary to stop that.

“We’re running now with the brakes partially on - and the R is 1.3 to 1.5, according to the latest estimates - so we can’t take the brake off on this, and we may have to push on the pedal a little harder to get it back under control.”

He said that he did expect death rates to “continue upwards”.

Tom McCabe, head of paid service at Norfolk County Council, last week said that people in Norfolk needed to be braced for a ‘long winter’, with spikes in other parts of the county in the months ahead.

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