Coronavirus: why local lockdowns may not stem the spread of Covid-19

Coronavirus: why local lockdowns may not stem the spread of Covid-19

With the launch of the NHS Covid-19 app, many Britons now face the prospect of checking their phone to discover that their area has been added to the government’s “red list”.

But data suggests that the local lockdown measures that follow spiralling cases may not be effective in stemming the spread of infections.

“Coronavirus cases have doubled in the majority of English cities and towns that are subject to long-term local lockdowns”, with concerns growing that restrictions are “confusing” and carried out “on the cheap”, The Guardian says. So are the regional restrictions the “new normal” or will they be reviewed as an official strategy?

Locked down, cases up 

In early August, Health Secretary Matt Hancock told The Times that nationwide restrictions and “very extensive” local lockdowns would be deployed to control a second spike in infections during the winter months.

But analysis of the areas that have already faced a local lockdown suggest that the measure is not curbing the spread of coronavirus. 

“In 11 out of 16 English cities and towns where restrictions were imposed nine weeks ago, the infection rate has at least doubled”, The Guardian reports, while “cases in five areas of Greater Manchester rose faster than the England average in that time”.

Leicester is the only area to have had a lockdown imposed where cases fell to a lower level than before the lockdown was implemented. But “in Wigan, cases have risen from seven per 100,000 residents to 102 in that period,” the paper says.

On Tuesday, an further two million Britons were placed under lockdown, when residents of Merseyside, Warrington and Teesside were told they were banned by law from mixing with other households indoors. 

The measures came after Knowsley, a borough in Merseyside that is home to over 150,000 residents, was found to have the highest infection rate in England, “with 422 new cases recorded in the seven days to September 25 – the equivalent of 279.7 cases per 100,000 people”, the Liverpool Echo says.

Covid confusion

The finding that local lockdown measures are failing to stop spiking case numbers will trigger concerns after Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, told reporters on Wednesday that regional hotspots can be controlled “if everybody follows the guidance”.

Scientists, MPs and local leaders told The Guardian that “the growing patchwork of local measures – which now cover about 20 million people, nearly a third of the UK population – had failed to bring down coronavirus rates, in part because the rules were unclear”.

Chris Ham, a former chief executive of the King’s Fund think tank, told the paper that the government needs to “redouble its efforts in generating public support for restrictions and using a wide range of community leaders to do so”.

Case numbers were not falling because restrictions are too “complex and confusing”, while the test-and-trace system is “still not working well enough”, Ham added.

But far from lining up to aid the government’s lockdown efforts, some local leaders have begun openly threatening to defy restrictions handed down by Westminster.

The Mayor of Middlesbrough, Andy Preston, this week released a video statement in which he said the lockdown covering the North East was “introduced based on factual inaccuracies and a monstrous and frightening lack of communication, and ignorance” 

Continuing that he does not “accept these measures”, Preston called on the government to engage with local leaders to “understand our local knowledge, expertise and ability to get things done, and preserve jobs and well-being”. 

In a direct challenge to ministers’ authority, Preston said that “as things stand, we defy the government and we do not accept these measures”, explaining that while “we need to get Covid under control… we need to work with people to find a way of preserving jobs and mental health”.

Beginning to look like Christmas

Preston may be the first regional leader to throw down the gauntlet over lockdown restrictions, but he is by no means the first to publicly complain about Westminster’s approach. 

City leaders in Liverpool “have questioned whether the new measures go far enough”, with Mayor Steve Rotherham requesting “access to further scientific evidence, as well as greater financial support to keep businesses afloat”, The Telegraph reports.

Meanwhile, with cases rising rather than falling in areas already under heightened rules, “there is concern that large parts of the country could be left with tighter restrictions for months”, The Guardian says.

With Environment Secretary George Eustice saying measures will only be reconsidered when local infection rates are “more in line with the national trend”, and Johnson keen to ensure Christmas plans can go ahead, an end does not appear to be on the immediate horizon.

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