University cities 'on the brink' of local lockdown following test and trace error

6 October 2020, 08:57 | Updated: 6 October 2020, 10:37

Several UK cities are said to be 'on the brink' of local lockdown
Several UK cities are said to be 'on the brink' of local lockdown. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

University cities including Leeds, Exeter and Oxford could be facing tough local lockdown restrictions in the wake of the government's Test and Trace blunder.

Cities with large student populations which were initially seen to be coping with the virus, could now face local lockdowns after the true extent of their infection figures was revealed.

The three cities saw a combined 3,758 additional positive cases officially recorded after a major computing error, potentially putting them on the verge of new restrictions.

The glitch was caused by Downing Street officials using an outdated Excel spreadsheet format which was not capable of displaying all the lines of data.

Read more: Testing scandal: ‘IT failure’ blamed as thousands still to be traced

Read more: Excel spreadsheet blamed for 16,000 missed Covid-19 cases

Public Health England on Sunday admitted a total of 15,841 cases were left out of daily reported figures between September 25 and October 2.

Residents in Nottingham, which has two universities, have also reportedly been told to brace for lockdown measures, according to the Telegraph.

The city, which is home to both Nottingham University and Nottingham Trent University, was previously not on the Government's Covid "watch list". 

But the updated PHE data reveals the city would have been one of the worst affected areas in the country last week when compared with the incorrect figures. 

However, according to the Telegraph, the Department for Health insist the new figures do not impact its watch list or alter current restriction in the area. 

Read more: Wales 'actively considering' quarantine for visitors from UK Covid hotspots

Read more: Surgeons warn of 'tsunami' of cancelled operations due to Covid-19

It comes as figures today revealed that cases have sharply risen in some Northern cities including Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle and Nottingham.

Manchester’s weekly rate more than doubled to 2,927 in the week to October 2 – equal to almost 530 cases per 100,000 people. 

Liverpool's cases rose from 306 to 487 per 100,000 in a week, and cases in Sheffield almost trebled from just over 100 per 100,000 to 286.

Greg Fell, Director of Public Health for Sheffield City Council, told Nick Ferrari on LBC that the rate in Sheffield has risen dramatically in the past week from 91.8 to 233.1, and access to this information would have been critical in helping the area avoid a local lockdown.

"The backlog of cases that were uploaded over the weekend have now more than doubled our rate very suddenly," he said.

"It is principally due to university students arriving, as is the case with most university towns."

When asked what actions Sheffield will be taking to try and combat the sharp rise in cases, Mr Fell said: "We've intensified our actions across all bases, we're upping communication with the 18-30 age group and working a lot with the universities.

"To their credit the universities have prepared as well as they could do, both in terms of managing cases and welfare for those who are isolating.

"But neither of these can work out perfectly, and I suspect we've got a bumpy road ahead of us for the next few months."

When asked how he thinks Test and Trace is functioning, he said: "It needs to be better. Currently for us, around 70 per cent of contact tracing is carried out effectively.

"This needs to be more like 85-90 per cent, and we have consistently asked the government to improve that, and we are ready to help them.

"We are standing up a team currently to try and improve our rates of contact."

It comes as it was revealed yesterday only half of the 16,000 missing cases have been contacted for a second time by Test and Trace, Matt Hancock told the Commons.

The Health Secretary told the Commons that only 51% of the missing 15,841 cases were contacted by tracers over the weekend, meaning around 7,760 people have not yet been chased up.

Mr Hancock said the government's assessment of the pandemic has "not substantially changed" after the data error caused thousands of positive cases to be missed out the total figures. 

In a statement, he told the Commons: "This morning the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) presented to me their updated analysis of the epidemic based on the new figures.

"The chief medical officer (Chris Whitty) has analysed that our assessment of the disease and its impact has not substantially changed as a result of these data.

"The JBC has confirmed that this has not impacted the basis on which decisions about local action were taken last week. Nevertheless, this is a serious issue that is being investigated fully."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said of the missing cases: "What happened here was that some of the data got truncated and it was lost.

"But what they have done now is not only contacted all the people who were identified as having the disease - that was done in the first place - but they are now working through all the contacts as well.

"The key thing, I would say, and it goes for everybody, is that if you are contacted by NHS Test and Trace then you must self-isolate, if you are told you have been in contact with somebody who has the virus.

"There is support of £500 for doing so and of course a £10,000 fine if you don't."

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth, responding to Mr Hancock, accused the government of "failing on the basics" on testing and said the problems with testing were "putting lives at risk", adding his opposite man "should apologise".

He said: "Yesterday we had a health minister saying this could be a moment of national pride like the Olympics. We've had a Prime Minister in a complete muddle over the rules and now, at one of the most crucial points in this pandemic, we learn that almost 16,000 positive cases when unreported for a week.

"That means as many as 48,000 contacts not traced and not isolating. Thousands of people blissfully unaware they've been exposed to Covid potentially spreading this deadly virus at a time when hospital admissions are increasing and we're in the second wave.

"This isn't just a shambles, it's so much worse than this and it gives me no comfort to say it, but it's putting lives at risk and he should apologise when he responds."