COVID-19: Case-Watch as at 5th November

As England moves from the previous 3-tier alert system of local restrictions to a short term nationwide tightening of restrictions, and national restrictions continue in both Wales and Northern Ireland, Scotland has this week brought in its own five tier system.

In this blog we explore the latest data on case numbers across the various parts of the UK, highlighting areas of particular concern, and consider whether there are any further signs that the spread of COVID-19 is slowing in areas with additional restrictions.

The overall picture on case numbers

The chart below shows the latest case numbers published by the UK government (as of the morning of 5th  November). The bars show the daily numbers of new COVID-19 cases across the UK, whilst the line shows the running seven-day average, smoothing through dips in new case numbers which tend to happen at weekends and bank holidays, for example.

It is important to note that case numbers over recent months (on the right of the chart) are not directly comparable with those from earlier in the pandemic (the left of the chart), due to the significant increase in testing capacity (which is now 10-15 times higher1 than at the start of the pandemic), more asymptomatic individuals now being tested, and positive test results now include individuals with only virus residues.

The sharp drop in more recent days shown in the chart is primarily due to the time-lag in obtaining testing results, as the figures are based on the specimen date. The analysis below therefore ignores the data for the most recent days, and ‘steps back’ by 4 days.  

In last week’s cases blog we discussed how the rate of growth appeared at the time to be accelerating. Given the tighter restrictions now in place across large parts of the country, it is reassuring that there appears to be some levelling off more recently.

Our “case-watch” for England

The graphic below compares this week’s “case-watch” to the previous week – with each point representing a (lower-tier) local authority2 in England. The best-case scenario would be for points to appear in the bottom left, indicating falling case numbers and suppression of the virus. If points appear to the right of the vertical line, case numbers are rising – what we don’t want to see is points primarily to the right, and especially not heading towards the top right (high, and rapidly growing, case numbers) as this suggests the potential need to move away from localised restrictions to nationwide restrictions in order to “put the brakes on”.

The key change between the two weeks appears to be that there are now more local authorities who are seeing falls in new cases (the left hand side of the chart). The number of authorities on the right of the chart has decreased from 290 to 184, and now covers around 58% of the population of England (compared to 92% last week), which is welcome.  

Focus on this week: Nationwide restrictions

Having previously implemented a three-tiered system for local restrictions in mid-October, the UK government has now introduced a nationwide lockdown across England, which is due to last from 5th November to 2nd December, at which point the three-tiered system will be reintroduced. In previous weeks we have analysed areas in each of the three tiers, highlighting areas at risk of moving to a higher tier. With the nationwide restrictions now in place, we focus on areas which have seen large rises or falls in case rates over the last week.

Focus on this week: Which local authorities might be of emerging concern?

Kingston upon Hull in East Yorkshire and Dudley in the West Midlands have both seen large rises in case numbers over the week. Both were included in a group of areas that were moved to the ‘High’ alert tier on 31st October, just before the nationwide lockdown was brought in. Meanwhile cases in Shropshire, while below the national average for England, have nonetheless seen a relatively large increase in cases over the last week.

Blackburn with Darwen continues to see a high case rate, but encouragingly cases have actually fallen over the week. Meanwhile Rossendale and Blackpool have also seen falls in cases over the week. Lancashire moved to Very High alert from 17th October, so local authorities will be hoping the tighter restrictions are starting to have the desired impact.

Salford, Wigan and Oldham have relatively high case rates. They are all in the Greater Manchester area, which was (somewhat controversially) moved from High to Very High alert level on 23rd October.

The Liverpool area was the first region in England to be placed in the Very High category. It is therefore welcome that the strengthened restrictions may be beginning to have the desired impact. Liverpool has seen falling cases for a number of weeks, and over the last week cases, have fallen to the extent that it is not shown on the chart as it is to the left of the x-axis. Nearby Knowsley and Sefton have also seen a fall in cases over the past week, although case rates remain higher than the national average.

The national weekly new case rate for week ending 23rd October was 224 per 100,000 people, while for the week ending 30th October it was only slightly higher at 229 per 100,000. While still relatively high, it may be that the rate of growth has slowed recently, even before the impacts of the nationwide restrictions are reflected in the data.

Case numbers in Wales

We have updated our analysis of the daily case data for Wales, as published by Public Health Wales, split by the 22 Local Authorities. The nationwide “firebreak” is now in force in Wales until 9th November. We highlight in the chart below areas where new case numbers / growth in new cases is of concern. Note that as some areas have relatively small populations, the results can be quite volatile from week to week.

We can see that cases are rising in 18 out of 22 areas (covering ~80% of the total population).

Once again case numbers in Rhondda Cynon Taf have risen significantly over the past week, while Merthyr Tydfil has an even higher new case rate. New case rates in Blaenau Gwent are also giving concern.

Overall, new case rates are higher in Wales than in England – running at 290 per 100,000 lives in week to 30th October, up from 231 in the week before. This continued growth rate, despite Wales approaching the end of the two-week firebreak period, will be of concern to health officials.

Case numbers in Scotland

There are currently a range of restrictions on the hospitality industry in Scotland, with particularly tight restrictions across the central belt. These restrictions have been extended for another week. In the meantime, the Scottish Government is introducing a five-tiered alert system, similar to that introduced previously in England, with effect from 2nd November.

We have updated our analysis of the daily case data for Scotland, as published by Public Health Scotland, split by the 32 Council Areas.

We can see from the chart that:

  • Cases are falling across much of the country, with 20 council authorities, covering around 68% of the population, seeing decreases since the previous week (on the left side of the chart). Many of these are in the central belt, which, along with Dundee, were placed in the higher Level 3 when the new system was introduced at the start of this week.
  • Neighbouring North Lanarkshire and South Lanarkshire were close to being allocated to the highest Level 4. However, while case rates remain relatively high, both areas have seen new cases fall in the most recent week.
  • The areas allocated to Level 1 (green dots) and Level 2 (blue dots) have relatively low case rates, which will have been one of the factors used to allocate them to these lower levels.

Scotland continues to have the lowest weekly new cases amongst the home nations. For the week up to 23rd October (which determines level of x axis in the chart) there were 166 new cases per 100,000. For the week to 30th October this had fallen to 146 per 100,000. As Scotland is now the only part of the UK to not have nationwide restrictions in place, authorities may be hoping cases continue in this direction to enable them to continue to avoid nationwide restrictions.

Case numbers in Northern Ireland

The ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown has now been in place in Northern Ireland for three weeks, and is due to last for a another week. However, nearly every local government district has again seen increases in cases numbers, and all are above the 100 cases per 100,000 level.

Belfast saw such a fall in new cases that it is not shown in the chart as it is beyond the lower limit of the x-axis. Also, the Derry City and Strabane area, which frequently saw the highest case rates across the UK over recent weeks, has again seen a welcome fall in cases over the last week.

The weekly case rate in Northern Ireland has been higher than those in the other home nations for the past few weeks. However, over the past week this has fallen from around 366 per 100,000 people in the week to 23rd October to around 291 per 100,000 in the week to 30th October. Could this be a sign that the circuit breaker is having the desired effect in controlling the rise in cases? We will be keeping an eye on case numbers over the next week or two to see if this is the case.


Notes:

1 Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 testing – see our earlier blog which explain the Pillars.

2 For those familiar with the English local authority system these are “lower tier” local authorities – the smallest regional unit where data is readily (and publicly) available.

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