Tough new Covid-19 restrictions expected across Birmingham


Tough new Covid-19 restrictions look set to be imposed across Birmingham after infections rocketed.

The city of 1.14 million people is widely expected to have tighter rules imposed on Friday, following two days of discussions between Government and regional health and local authority leaders.

West Midlands mayor Andy Street, who had travelled to London to meet with officials, said earlier this week additional restrictions were "very, very likely".

Stressing no final decisions had yet been made, he added the "simplest form of restriction would be city-wide".

Jess Phillips, MP for Birmingham Yardley, told ITV's Peston on Wednesday that lockdown-style measures were looking increasingly inevitable.

The city's director of public health Dr Justin Varney said the uptick was "linked primarily to private household gatherings", at the end of August and across the bank holiday weekend.

An increase in testing had also turned up more positive results, he added.

Licensed premises, like pubs and bars, and restaurants flouting contact-tracing rules and social distancing, are also believed to be part of the problem behind rising rates.

The mayor also said younger people "had got to take responsibility" with the biggest growth in the under-40s age groups.

According to NHS Digital data, the latest seven-day rate for the city to September 8 showed 78.2 cases per 100,000 with 892 cases over the period – among the highest in Birmingham since April's peak.

For the previous seven-day period, the rate was just over 30.

The city had already been moved up the rungs of the national Public Health England (PHE) watchlist, which ranks local authority areas of concern by infection rate.

Birmingham was deemed an area in need of "enhanced support" last month, after recording a seven-day infection rate above 30 per 100,000 people.

Of particular concern to health chiefs is the fact the rate has been increasing, day-on-day.

Birmingham City Council rapidly introduced tougher measures – agreed with the Government – including a legally-enforced crackdown on businesses flouting Covid-19 measures.

A whistleblowers' hotline set up in August allowing people to report rule-breaking businesses has had more than 800 calls.

Two restaurants in the city were then sanctioned by council officials for hosting larger-than-allowed gatherings, in breach of Government guidelines.

An asylum centre in the Edgbaston area was also handed a direction order, forcing it to tighten Covid-19 control measures, after 56 staff and residents tested positive – the city's largest outbreak to date.

The current positive infections tally puts Birmingham third in a national table of local authority areas of highest infection rates, behind Bolton and Sunderland.

Bolton's seven-day rate currently stands at 143 cases per 100,000, and Sunderland is on 84, according to data from NHS Digital.

There are concerns Birmingham's neighbour, Solihull, will also see new restrictions imposed with the latest infection rate for the week ending September 8 standing at 62.8.

Another neighbouring borough, Sandwell, which has grappled with stubbornly high rates for weeks, is also thought to be at risk of further measures.

Only last week, the head of England's biggest NHS hospital trust said there was "absolutely no scientific evidence" coronavirus was weakening, as he warned against complacency in Birmingham.

Dr David Rosser, of University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Trust, said rumours the virus had significantly "mutated" into a less virulent form were incorrect and medics were "deeply concerned" about an increase in hospital admissions.

Elsewhere, Leeds, which is in 13th place on the infection rates table with 60 cases per 100,000, could also face tougher measures.

A total of 474 new cases were recorded in the city over the week period.

Last Saturday, the city council's Labour leader, Judith Blake, called for the authority to be granted greater powers to intervene in order to stem the spread of the virus.

Ms Blake said "personal contact" with local people would be more effective in convincing them to self-isolate than the centralised over-the-phone NHS Test and Trace system has been.

She said then: "We feel there is a bit of a complacency coming in.

"What we are seeing is the numbers are changing, and actually more young people are testing positive and they are spread around the city."

Previous seven-day data showed other cities recording sharp increases in their weekly rate, including Salford, Manchester and Liverpool.