Government ministers have hinted that local lockdowns could be used to control coronavirus in areas of England where the Indian variant is running rampant.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Environment Secretary George Eustice have both said in recent days that a return to a tiered system of restrictions remains an option when the national lockdown is lifted in June.
The suggestion has caused consternation among local leaders, with councillors in Blackburn with Darwen urging Mr Hancock to rule out local lockdowns.
But which areas would currently be most at risk if ministers brought in a tiered approach now?
How to measure the risk
Last year the Government revealed some of the criteria it looked at when deciding on local restrictions.
These include the rate of Covid cases per 100,000 people, the rate of increase, the prevalence among people aged 60 and over, the positivity rate – which is the proportion of tests that come back positive – and pressure on the NHS.
We also now have information on which areas are seeing the highest number of cases of the Indian variant, B.1.617.2.
As there is typically a lag between an increase in cases and an increase in hospitalisations, and as hospital occupancy remains low, we have discounted this metric for the time being.
But by combining data for the other five measures, NationalWorld has devised a list of council areas that are getting the worst brunt of the virus right now – and which could draw the short straw if a tiered system was to come into effect.
Which areas are most at risk?
Bolton, currently the epicentre of the Indian variant surge, is the worst ranking English council in every measure bar the rate of increase.
Its rate of increase of 99% in the week to 15 May put it in 21st place in the country. However, it was largely surpassed by councils with a high rate of increase but from a much lower base.
The biggest increase for instance was in Bolsover, where the case rate increased by 417%, from 1.2 to 6.2 cases per 100,000 people.
Bolton meanwhile now has a rate of 321 cases, up from 161.4 a week earlier, dwarfing the current England average of 21.
Cases among people aged 60 and over are at 76.8 per 100,000, compared to an England average of 5.9.
The other areas of most concern include Burnley, Bedford, Blackburn with Darwen, Leicester, Hounslow and Manchester, which are all in the bottom 20 for four out of the five measures.
South Holland in Lincolnshire does not appear in the Indian variant data. However, it is in the bottom 20 for three of the remaining four categories – case rates, positivity rate and cases among over 60s – placing it fifth in NationalWorld’s ranking when the Indian variant data is discounted.
The 20 worst-ranking councils when the Indian variant data is discounted are:
|3||Blackburn with Darwen|
|8||Kingston Upon Thames|
While ranking highly in England, all but six of these areas – Bolton, Blackburn, Bedford, Kirklees, Burnley and Hounslow – currently have case rates below 50 per 100,000 people.
The 20 worst-ranking councils when the Indian variant data is included are:
|2||Blackburn with Darwen|
|15||Kingston Upon Thames|
The rankings are only indicative and should be taken as showing which areas could be cause for concern. In some places – for instance Lewisham – the rate of cases may be lower than the England average. However, other measures may suggest a problem. In Lewisham, the rate of cases among the 60 and over age group is two-and-a-half times higher than the national average.
What are the limitations of the data?
To some extent being a hotspot for the Indian variant is a sure fire way to drive your way up in the rankings for the other measures.
That is because surge testing is being implemented in many of these areas to try to contain the spread.
Logically, the more tests you do, the more Covid cases you will discover that might otherwise have gone undetected, given that one in three people do not show symptoms.
However, this should not affect the positivity rate as much, as more testing would also return a proportionally similar increase in negative results unless the virus was truly “spreading like wildfire”, as Matt Hancock recently said it was among unvaccinated populations.
As well as topping the rankings for Covid cases overall and among the 60 and over age group, Bolton is also streaks ahead of the pack when it comes to the positivity rate.
In the week to 15 May, 7.4% of people tested had at least one positive result, compared to 0.7% across England.
This suggests that Bolton does indeed have a much higher prevalence of the virus than elsewhere in the country.
The World Health Organisation recommends governments ensure positivity rates are below a threshold of 5% for two weeks before reopening communities.
The next highest positivity rates were in Blackburn with Darwen (5.3%) and Kirklees and Bedford (both 3.3%).
Overall, there were 28 councils in England that were worse than the England average in all four of the relevant metrics – excluding the Indian variant, for which there is no average figure.
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