The second wave of coronavirus infections has emerged most prominently in northern England because rates had not dropped as low as in the South at the end of the national lockdown, it has been confirmed.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, told a press briefing on Monday that the increase in Covid-19 infections had become a “nationwide phenomenon”, but the North had seen the fastest rate of re-emergence because cases “never dropped as far in the summer” as they did in the South.
It comes as the Government prepares to announce sweeping new controls in an attempt to stem the surge of infections, with Boris Johnson due to set out his his three-tier strategy in a Commons statement.
Parts of the North of England are bracing themselves for the most stringent Tier 3 controls, with Merseyside expected to have its pubs, gyms and casinos closed in a bid to suppress its infection rate.
Speaking at the press briefing, Dr Jane Eddleston, medical lead in Greater Manchester, said the North West currently has about 40% of Covid cases and 30% of the region’s critical care beds are taken up with patients suffering from the disease.
Prof Van-Tam, addressing a question about a presentation slide depicting a creeping rate rise in the South, said: “You have worried me now that I might have presented a bipolar picture that Covid-19 is a problem in the North and not a problem in the South.
“On the contrary, the epidemic this time has clearly picked up pace in the North of England earlier than it did in the first wave, and that almost certainly relates to the fact the disease levels in the North, and certainly in the North West, never dropped as far in the summer as they did in the South.
“But pretty much all areas of the UK are now seeing growths in the infection rate and that extending brown map that I showed you, which is sourced from the Joint Biosecurity Centre, absolutely makes that point.
“This is a nationwide phenomenon now that rates are changing upwards across the UK.”
Northern leaders have for weeks been claiming that the UK Government lifted the national spring lockdown restrictions with London and the South East in mind.
Figures show that on so-called “super Saturday” on July 4 when pubs, restaurants and hairdressers were allowed to reopen, recorded cases in the North West was 72 per 100,000 people compared with 29 cases in the South East.
Numbers in the North West did dip further, dropping as low as 54 on July 12 before starting to drift upwards from late July onwards, but the figures still did not plummet to the low of 21 seen in the South East on August 2.
— Andy Burnham (@AndyBurnhamGM) October 12, 2020
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham tweeted after the press conference: “I am grateful to the deputy chief medical officer for recognising this point.
“Too many rush to blame the public in the North without understanding this.”
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman, asked about Prof Van-Tam’s comments at a Westminster briefing, said: “We were guided by the scientific and medical advice at the time as to when we could begin to ease the local lockdown restrictions.
“You will remember that was done in a very gradual and cautious way, and also the Prime Minister was clear at the time that it may well be possible that we would have to put on the brakes and reimpose some measures if you did see the infection rate starting to rise again.
“I think what you can see across Europe is the second wave of this virus and that is why we have been taking action in recent days and weeks to help to limit its spread.”