The coronavirus reproduction rate could be as high as 1.1 in the North West of England, according to figures released today – as separate data revealed infections have doubled in a week in locked-down parts of Greater Manchester.
Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine estimate the ‘R’ level has risen well above the danger zone in the North West, where 4.5million people were put under tough new lockdown measures last week because of a spike in cases. The R – which represents the average number of people an infected Covid-19 patient passes the disease to – must stay below 1 or the virus will start to grow exponentially.
The data, compiled by the university’s Centre for Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases, suggests cases in the region could double in 56 days if the R rate is not squashed. But the estimates are slightly out of date due to a lag in the way the reproduction rate is calculated, meaning they only go up to July 18. Any effect last week’s lockdown might’ve had on the R value won’t show up in the figures for several weeks.
Separate worrying figures published by Public Health England today show that infection rates increased in nine out of 10 boroughs in Manchester between July 22 and 29, two days before the new rules were introduced. Rochdale was the only place where cases were not on the rise but infections have now also started to dip in Wigan and Bolton after a weekend of lockdown measures.
Oldham, the second worst affected borough in England, saw 148 cases over the week — taking its rate from 41.6 to 62.8 cases per 100,000 people. Rates in both the City of Manchester and Tameside have more than doubled in seven days.
Local public health officials who were privy to the PHE data declared a ‘major incident’ in Greater Manchester over the weekend due to the rapidly escalating transmission rates. The alert level is normally reserved for major floods or terror attacks.
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham told the Manchester Evening News that the figures ‘underline the need for caution and to follow the guidance. All 2.8million residents in Greater Manchester were banned from meeting anyone from different households inside their homes or in gardens, in a drastic move that was announced with just three hours’ notice last Friday.
The ban, also applied to parts of Lancashire and West Yorkshire, extended to pubs and restaurants — but those businesses are permitted to remain open for people visiting individually or from the same household. But young people are still flocking to packed pubs, with large groups of friends gathering at busy nightspots on Saturday. Ministers have been urged to encourage youngsters to abide by the rules, which are designed to halt the spread of the virus and give the economy chance to recover.
Meanwhile, mounting fears of a second wave last week prompted Boris Johnson to announce he was ‘squeezing the brake pedal’ on lifting coronavirus restrictions still throttling some sectors of UK business.
Officials have drawn up radical plans that could see millions of people — including over-50s — asked to stay at home, if the virus does strike again. And two new game-changing tests will be offered to millions of Britons in a major advance in the war on coronavirus as the government looks to avert a second wave and restart the stalled economy, which experts fear face a ‘long and precarious’ recovery.
In other coronavirus developments today:
Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine calculated the R rate for all regions in the UK by drawing on figures from Public Health England, the NHS and Office for National Statistics to get aggregate case data.
They estimate the R is above the level 1 in the North West (1.1), Wales (1.1) and Northern Ireland (1.3). But due to the low case rates in Wales and Northern Ireland, they are less confident about their estimates.
Scientists say the R becomes increasingly difficult to predict when there are only a handful of cases each day, because one small cluster can skew the figures upwards.
The researchers also believe the R is hovering at the danger zone of 1 in London, the South East, West Midlands and in Yorkshire and The Humber.
Data released today by Public Health England, which takes into account cases diagnosed between July 25 and 31 — the first day of the measures being in place, shows that infection rates are still rising in seven of the 10 boroughs in Greater Manchester.
Bury — home to 190,000 people — saw the biggest rise in cases compared to the week before. Its infection rate jumped by 112 per cent, to 18.9 cases for every 100,000 people.
Stockport’s coronavirus infection rate jumped by 59 per cent to 22.3 compared to the previous seven-day spell, followed by a 51 per cent rise in the City of Manchester (32.5) and a 41 per cent increase in Tameside (24.4).
Salford’s rate jumped 18 per cent to 23.6, followed by a slightly smaller 7 per cent rise in Oldham (55.2) and just a 3 per cent increase in Trafford (34.3).
However, Rochdale’s infection rate dropped 38 per cent to 24.5, Wigan’s plummeted by 24 per cent to 4.9 and Bolton’s fell 2 per cent to 17.9.
Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council, urged residents to stay calm last night after officials decided to increase their readiness as they grapple with the escalating coronavirus transmission rates in the region.
‘People should not be alarmed that a major incident has been declared,’ Sir Richard said.
The Labour politician called the move ‘standard practice for complex situations’ and said it would allow a ‘central command structure’ to be created to enable agencies to ‘draw on extra resources’.
Oldham has seen the highest number of cases in Greater Manchester, with the boroughs of Trafford, Tameside, Rochdale and Stockport, along with the cities of Manchester and Salford, also featuring among a list of England’s 20 worst-hit areas.
Pictures of partygoers packing local nightspots this weekend are likely to cause concern amid the rise in cases.
Writing in the Sunday Mirror before the announcement, Labour mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said people in the area ‘on the whole’ had been brilliant at adhering to the new rules and rejected ‘efforts to blame some for breaking lockdown rules’.
The comments follow a claim made by Tory MP Craig Whittaker, whose West Yorkshire seat of Calder Valley was one of the areas affected by the fresh lockdown measures, that it was the ‘BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) communities that are not taking this seriously enough’.
While the new regulations for Blackburn with Darwen and Bradford were published on Friday, those for Greater Manchester are not expected to be published until this week.
Mr Burnham has said restrictions will be reviewed on a weekly basis.
It came as former England midfielder Paul Scholes was accused of holding a party at his Oldham home to celebrate his son’s 21st on the same day lockdown measures were reimposed across parts of the North West.
The Sun cited phone footage as showing revellers ignored social distancing ‘as they drank and danced’ at the seven-hour party on Friday, with the paper citing Tory MP Andrew Bridgen criticising Mr Scholes for ‘reckless behaviour’.
Greater Manchester Police said they attended the property and encouraged those present to ‘be compliant’ with the newly imposed restrictions.
In national developments, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick cast doubt on reports of so-called ‘nuclear’ options under consideration for avoiding a second national lockdown.
The Times reported the Prime Minister held a ‘war game’ session with Chancellor Rishi Sunak on Wednesday to run through possible options in the event of a second wave of infections, measures that are said to include lockdown-like conditions for London, with the M25 acting as a barrier around the capital.
But Mr Jenrick told Times Radio the mooted proposals, such as asking those as young as 50 to shield from society, were ‘just speculation’.
Meanwhile, Mr Sunak’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme launched today, giving diners 50 per cent off at a range of pubs and restaurants.
Two new game-changing tests are also set to be offered to millions of Britons in a major advance in the war on coronavirus.
Hailed as ‘transformative’, the tests – which give results in 90 minutes – will start being rolled out from next week.
One is so simple it could soon be deployed in airports, offices, schools, pubs and restaurants – bringing testing to the bulk of the population.
And the Government will start testing sewage to track coronavirus and could ban domestic travel to stop local outbreaks.
It comes as residents of beauty spots across Britain were today bracing for a fresh stampede of revellers as a major ‘African heat flare’ is set to roast the country during a ten-day heatwave.
Tourists are expected to flock back to beaches across the country as temperatures up to 91F (33C) sweep in from central Europe by the end of the week – following 71F (22C) highs today.
But the warm weather will concern local authorities in areas such as Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Sussex which can expect another huge influx of holidaymakers as Britons shun foreign trips to go on staycations.
Beleaguered Cornish residents reported over the weekend how the popular county had turned into ‘Benidorm on steroids’ as floods of visitors left them too scared to leave their homes.
Meanwhile Thanet District Council in Kent begged people to avoid four of the area’s beaches – including the popular Margate’s Main Sands – due to the number of visitors.
And a drunken fight broke out on the seafront in Brighton on Saturday night as two women went toe-to-toe and others cheered and ignored social distancing.
Putting 4.5million people in the North West under tough new lockdown measures because of a spike in coronavirus cases was a ‘rash’ decision, according to a leading expert.
Ministers last week announced people from different homes in Greater Manchester, parts of Lancashire and West Yorkshire would be banned from meeting each other inside their homes or in gardens following a spike in cases.
But Professor Carl Heneghan, director of Oxford University’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, claimed Covid-19 cases aren’t actually rising — despite government figures showing an upwards trend.
He said the rising infection rates are down to more people being tested and warned of inaccuracies in the data, telling the Daily Telegraph: ‘The northern lockdown was a rash decision.
‘Where’s the rise? By date of test through July there’s no change if you factor in all the increased testing that’s going on.’
He warned there was a rise in detected cases because of more targeted testing in areas such as Oldham, the second-worst hit borough in the country with 55.2 cases for every 100,000 people in the past week.
Statistics show almost 500 new cases of the coronavirus were being diagnosed in England every day at the start of July.
But this jumped to around 750 by the end of the month, which Professor Heneghan argued was ‘not a sudden jump’.
Professor Heneghan added that the increase in the number of Covid-19 cases was likely down to an increase in pillar two testing.
Pillar two tests include coronavirus swab tests given to the public through DIY kits sent in the post and at drive-through centres.
Pillar one tests are ones that are given to NHS and care workers, as well as patients in hospital.
Professor Heneghan pointed to data showing the number of pillar two tests carried out each day rose by 80 per cent over the course of July to around 80,000.
But he said the number of cases spotted for every 100,000 of the tests is ‘flat-lining’ and that they are actually dropping for pillar one.
Professor Heneghan said it was ‘essential’ to adjust for the number of tests being done, adding: ‘Why is no-one checking this out at government level?’
Explaining why cases aren’t rising on his website, he wrote: ‘Leicester and Oldham have seen significant increases in testing in a short time.
‘Leicester, for example in the first two weeks of July did more tests than anywhere else in England: 15,122 tests completed in the two weeks up to 13th July.’
He also questioned the accuracy of the data, saying differences in figures ‘makes it difficult to make judgements as to what is happening on the ground’.
For instance, Professor Heneghan wrote that England reported 576 cases on July 28 — but the government only recorded 547.
The Department of Health and Social Care says ‘cases are reported when lab tests are completed and confirmed positive’.
Explaining the figures, health chiefs say: ‘Each day new cases are reported, but the dates they originate from cover the previous few days.’
Figures Professor Heneghan analysed look at specimen dates — when a person was tested for the virus, not when they swabbed positive.
He added: ‘Inaccuracies in the data and poor interpretation will often lead to errors in decisions about imposing restrictions.’
Professor Heneghan cautioned that any interpretation of figures should account for ‘fluctuations in the rates of testing’.
Government data shows 753 people are being struck down with the life-threatening infection each day across Britain.
In comparison, the rolling seven-day average of coronavirus cases had dropped to as as low as 546 at the start of July.
It is not the first time Professor Heneghan has flagged inaccuracies in government data.
Last month he and another statistician at Oxford, Dr Jason Oke, warned the official daily death toll was too high.
The pair calculated fewer than 40 people are actually dying each day — even though figures show the rolling seven-day average is still above 60.
It emerged that the government was classing people as Covid-19 victims if they died of any cause any time after testing positive for the virus.
This meant survivors would be added to the death toll, even if they were hit by a bus months after beating the life-threatening infection.
The shocking discovery prompted Matt Hancock to announce an ‘urgent’ review into how Public Health England was counting the deaths.
Professor Heneghan’s claims come amid growing fears of a second wave, with data suggesting cases are on the rise.
Boris Johnson last week announced he was ‘squeezing the brake pedal’ on lifting the coronavirus restrictions still throttling some sectors of UK business.
He blamed a spike in cases, with separate figures suggesting 4,200 people are now catching the virus every day in England — which has doubled since June.
But the estimate from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) was based on just 59 people testing positive out of tens of thousands.
Separate figures from the NHS show cases are declining in Blackburn, Bradford and Leicester, three of the country’s worst-hit authorities.
However, infection rates are rising in all but three boroughs of Greater Manchester and are quickly spiralling in Swindon.
It comes as the government will start testing sewage to track coronavirus to stop local outbreaks.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said the measure would give officials a ‘head start’ on tackling further outbreaks.
Boris Johnson could also ban travel in and out of local lockdown areas under new plans that may see over-50s ordered to shield.
The radical proposal is currently being discussed as Downing Street shakes up its crisis response in the wake of localised flare-ups.
Ministers are understood to be keen to avoid another national lockdown and derail the economic recovery, which could take years.