Coronavirus: We were sacrificed for sake of London, northern leaders say

Lockdown was eased on a timetable with London in mind, leaving the north of England struggling to get cases down, according to northern leaders.

Charlotte Wace, Northern Correspondent | Kat Lay, Health Correspondent 

Industrial areas, where most people do not have the option to work from home, and pockets of deprivation in which residents cannot afford to self-isolate have also played a role, health experts said.

According to Public Health England figures published late last week, the five areas with more than 200 cases per 100,000 population were in the north, where Covid-19 rates have remained stubbornly high despite local lockdowns. Newcastle upon Tyne had a rate of 250.5 per 100,000, Knowsley 246.7, Liverpool 239.3, Manchester 200.3, and St Helens 200.

The bottom end of the list featured southern councils: the Isle of Wight had only 4.2 cases per 100,000, Suffolk 6.1 and Dorset 7.7.

Admissions to hospital and deaths in hospital in the North West are rising rapidly and the number of coronavirus patients in the North West is eight times higher than those in the South East. Of 219 deaths in English hospitals in the week ending September 28, most were in the North East and Yorkshire, the North West and the midlands. Only 48 came from London, the South East, South West and East of England.

All ten of Greater Manchester’s boroughs have infection rates that are higher than those of Leicester when it went into local lockdown, despite weeks of restrictions on household gatherings.

Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, pointed to a table comparing cases in Greater Manchester with those in London. It showed that as schools reopened in June Greater Manchester still had a rate of 28.9 cases per 100,000 population, against 4.6 in London. When pubs reopened in July the figures were 13.4 and 3.2.

In a tweet on Saturday Mr Burnham said: “The timing of the lifting of national lockdown was London-centric. Please remember this the next time you see politicians pointing fingers at our people.”

Restrictions have also been in place for weeks in Lancashire but some boroughs still have high case numbers.

Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, insisted that localised restrictions were working and that, if ignored, they would be replaced by a blanket national lockdown. “If you look at places like Leicester or Luton who have had these restrictions and had them lifted, that shows there can be light at the end of the tunnel,” he told BBC Breakfast.

Sakthi Karunanithi, director of public health for Lancashire county council, said: “Hindsight always helps. We should have waited for a sustainable reduction in cases before introducing the lifting measures and just thinking about this as a blanket, ‘whole country in the same situation’ — which has never been the case — that has played a part.”

He added that existing measures did not seem “precise enough to target the behaviours causing the transmission”.

A further “massive disadvantage” had also been difficulties with the test-and-trace system that failed to give local health teams the resources to “blitz” the community with tests and support. “The underpinning issue is resources,” he said. “That argument has been made so many times but it feels like it is falling on deaf ears. They need to resource our efforts at a local level, properly supporting local teams to work with the national teams.”

Manchester says that a lot of its high case numbers are in student halls of residence but other parts of the region point to different factors.

Sarah McNulty, director of public health for Knowsley, said: “We know that we are a very deprived borough and the evidence tells us that means people have less choices. For instance, they are more likely to have low-paid front-facing jobs, and we don’t know if there are issues of having to work.”

Officials are starting to see more cases in the over-65s category, “which is a concern”.

More deprived areas nationally have been harder hit by Covid-19. The Office for National Statistics said that in July there were 3.1 deaths per 100,000 people living in the most deprived areas, compared with 1.4 per 100,000 in the most affluent.