CORONAVIRUS infection rates are deeply divided across England’s north and south, as new data reveals only eight of the country’s 50 worst-hit areas are in the south.
Today’s newly-released data from Public Health England gives an eye-opening snapshot of Covid-19 cases across England as the threat of more ‘local lockdowns’ looms.
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Infection rates were highest in Leicester for the week ending June 21st with 140.2 cases confirmed for every 100,000 people.
The city also became the first in the UK to enter into a local lockdown this week with schools and non-essential shops closing their doors.
The city’s infection rate was twice as high as the next worst-hit authority of Bradford and reported 944 coronavirus cases in the two weeks up to June 23.
NORTH WEST CLUSTER
The data reveals a cluster in the North West of England, with Bradford, Barnsley and Rochdale all recording at least 50 coronavirus infections for every 100,000 people in the same week.
Regions in England suffering the highest numbers of new cases were seen in the Midlands or the North, with those faring the best in the South.
Blackburn, Darwen, Kirklees, Oldham, Rotherham, Tameside and Peterborough are also showing worrying signs of infections rising.
Out of the 50 worst-hit areas, only eight authorities – Bedford (42), Luton (26.6), Central Bedfordshire (15.9), Kent (13.5), Slough (13.4), Thurrock (12.2), Milton Keynes (10.8) and Swindon (10.4) – were recorded in the South of England.
By comparison, just six authorities in the list of areas faring best are in the North or the Midlands — South Tyneside (0), Redcar and Cleveland (0.7), Sunderland (1.8), North East Lincolnshire (1.9), Rutland (2.5) and Northumberland.
Overall, the South West has managed to keep the virus largely under control, with Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset keeping the rate of infection fairly low.
The new figures were published on Thursday as part of Public Health England’s weekly surveillance report.
Some experts believe the disparity in job roles between regions is one of the main causes of the ‘North-South’ divide in coronavirus cases.
This theory points to figures showing London is recovering quicker than most regions and correlates the drop in infections to the higher number of white collar jobs in the capital, allowing more employees to work from home and isolate from others.
In more deprived areas people are therefore more likely to have to go to work and use public transport — raising their risk of being infected.
Joshua Moon, a research fellow in science policy at the University of Sussex, told MailOnline: “On this data, there is clearly a North/South divide here and the important thing to consider is why.
“There was a frequent phrase being used early in the epidemic that the virus was ‘a great leveller’ because the virus infects you regardless of your socioeconomic status.
“These local lockdowns are going to show just how false that claim is by hitting the most important and hardest hit communities first be they North/South, black/white, rich/poor.
“Locations with the highest transmission are also locations that likely have higher numbers of individuals with jobs that can’t be done remotely, or that have a high reliance on public transport rather than personal transportation, or that have higher proportions of key workers in logistics or transport.”
Dr Simon Clarke, a microbiologist at the University of Reading, similarly agreed saying: “In deprived areas people are more likely to have to go to work, less likely to be able to work from home, and more likely to use public transport.
“They can’t distance themselves from others. Factories and manufacturing work are opportunities to mix and mixing is what it’s all about. You wouldn’t put a food processing factory in London because it’s too expensive.”
Food processing factories have shown to have a higher transmission risk with outbreaks recorded at plants in Anglesey, Wrexham and West Yorkshire.
Infectious disease experts say the working conditions may increase the risk, because workers must talk louder over machinery or have coffee breaks together.
The dramatic surge in the East Midlands city was yesterday blamed on sweatshops employing up to 10,000 labourers.
Data on movement in the UK, compiled by Google which reports trends across places such as parks, work, and residential areas, suggests more people in the hardest-hit coronavirus areas are going to work and less are staying at home compared with the least-hit areas.
Since lockdown, both London and Leicester have seen similar dramatic drops in transport use. But Leicester has seen only an 18 per cent drop in people going to work compared with London’s 29 per cent.
Only nine per cent more people are staying at home – where they are at less risk of catching the coronavirus – in Leicester compared with London’s 12 per cent and West Berkshire’s 19 per cent.
Some evidence has shown those who live in the poorest parts of England are dying from coronavirus more than those in affluent areas.
Between March 1 and April 17, the poorest parts of England saw 55.1 coronavirus deaths per 100,000 population, compared with 25.3 deaths per 100,000 in the wealthiest areas.
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Others have pointed towards an ethnic disparity as data has revealed black and Asian people are more likely to both catch coronavirus and die from it than white people.
Reasons for this could include a higher prevalence of underlying health conditions and structural racism.
For example, black people are statistically more likely to be overweight than white people, while both Asian and black populations have been found to have a higher risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Importantly, looking at ethnicity specifically in the worst-hit areas, almost half of Leicester’s population is of Asian heritage or from black backgrounds.
In the east of Leicester, where the outbreak is at its worst, up to two-thirds of residents are BAME compared with 13.8 per cent in the UK broadly.
In comparison, there have not been any new cases of coronavirus found in West Berkshire, a trend followed closely by Gloucestershire, Wokingham and Cornwall.
The 2011 Census showed that when compared nationally, just five per cent of people in West Berkshire defined themselves as coming from a BAME background.
South Tyneside, the only Northern authority to report zero new cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 in the week to June 21, is also more than 95 per cent white.
Other factors such as an ageing population and the fact the North East is a largely industrial area may also explain the disparity.
Andrew Bridgen, Tory MP for North West Leicestershire, said a “perfect storm” of factors contributed to the outbreak.
He added: “We have the biggest ethnic minority population of any city, so you have multi-generational households where the young people have probably been out socialising in breach of the lockdown.
“On top of that there is quite a substantial food processing industry.”
It comes as the UK has been seeing a general trend of falling cases, after months of lockdown restrictions.
Most areas of the country had been reporting a steady decline in infections, but since mid-June, some hotspots have seen a rise.
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