Reports of Suffolk coronavirus ‘spike’ sparked by just three cases – here is what is actually happening
PUBLISHED: 12:34 01 July 2020 | UPDATED: 09:02 02 July 2020
National newspaper reports that Suffolk is one area which could face a local lockdown because of a rise in the number of coronavirus cases is based on just one extra test result.
The county had, in fact, one of the lowest rates of coronavirus cases in the country last week.
Suffolk was named in national newspapers as one of 36 local authorities that have recorded an increase in Covid-19 cases and could go into lockdown again like Leicester.
Public health data shows that Suffolk had two positive coronavirus tests between June 13 and 19, and the following week, it had three.
A report in the Daily Telegraph, which has been widely reproduced, used this data to determine which places are at risk.
But it is flawed.
The figures used, from Public Health England (PHE), only cover so-called Pillar 1 test results which are tests from hospitals, and those carried out on NHS and care staff.
A second set of figures called Pillar 2 gives a much more detailed picture of recent infections. It includes tests results from the wider population and regional centres, such as the Copdock Park and Ride centre.
These local case numbers have not been published, despite pressure from doctors, councils and public health experts on the government.
However, Public Health England has published numbers using Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 data to show the average number of cases per 100,000 people in each county and council area.
In Suffolk, the latest data shows that in the week up to June 21, there were just 1.5 positive test results per 100,000 people.
That meant Suffolk was the 131st lowest out of 150 council areas in England for infections.
As a comparison, Norfolk had 4.3 cases and Leicester, where authorities have extended a lockdown, had 140.
Stuart Keeble, public health director at Suffolk County Council (SCC), said some Pillar 2 data had been shared with the authority which, alongside Pillar 1 testing figures, has been helping them to build a picture of the presence of the virus.
The authority did not clarify how much data they had been supplied with. We have asked SCC and the government for case numbers in Suffolk at all testing centres.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said all councils in England now have the ability to access testing data, down to an individual and postcode level.
PHE began providing positive test data – which had been shared with the public health agency for several months – to local councils last week, on June 24, officials said.
This data is set to be made accessible to the public in due course.
They added: “PHE has already been providing this data to directors of public health in the event of an outbreak so that they can take all necessary action to curb the spread.”
Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dr Dan Poulter said: “The good news is that the rate of infection in Suffolk has dropped considerably in recent weeks, and the virus appears to be under control.
“It’s important there is full transparency in data, it makes very little sense to have some that’s only available to PHE on a national level.
“If we want to effectively track and trace contacts of people who have been infected, Suffolk County Council and local healthcare organisations are going to be an important part of that process.”
James Cartlidge, MP for South Suffolk where the Copdock testing centre is based, said that when asked by Keir Starmer at PMQs yesterday about the situation in Leicester, the Prime Minister was clear that Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 data had been broadly shared with the relevant authorities.
But he added: “On the situation in Suffolk, and as in any locality, we should be wary of extrapolating too much from small and short term variations in data.”
Meanwhile Therese Coffey, MP for Suffolk Coastal, said that if any local lockdown is needed, it should be local, and not “blanket coverage” of the whole county.
Suffolk’s health ministers, including health secretary Matt Hancock and junior minister Jo Churchill, were contacted for comment.
Analysis by the Financial Times shows Leicester’s peak in cases can only be seen in Pillar 2 data, not Pillar 1, adding to calls for case numbers to be published for every area.
The British Medical Association (BMA) implored the Government to ensure local leaders were given timely information about cases in their area to help contain the spread of the virus.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the BMA Council, said: “The Prime Minister has talked about a ‘whack a mole’ strategy to tackle local outbreaks, but this is no use if the people leading the response on the ground - be they public health teams or local leaders - are not given the most accurate up-to-date data possible.
“This is crucial to allow swift action and to protect lives and the health service, and something that is not happening right now.”
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