Hackney’s director of public health denies a ‘second wave’ as cases outstrip the rest of London and continue to rise
- Credit: PA
Hackney’s director of public health has ruled out a second wave, but has expressed concern that coronavirus figures continue to rise since lockdown measures eased - with new cases far outstripping all other London boroughs.
While there were 17 new cases in the week ending July 8 in Hackney, a further 39 were diagnosed the following week, and then 46 more in the week up until last Wednesday. Figures for this week have not yet been published. The figure is more than double that of Barnet, which had the second-highest number of new cases in the capital with 34 new cases in the two weeks up to July 22. In comparison, Islington had 12 cases in that two-week time frame, while Camden had eight.
“It is a significant number,” Sandra Husbands told the Gazette, referring to the Hackney figures. “We are still in the territory where there is concern but we aren’t as concerned, in that it is not increasing at the same rate as we had seen in the middle of July.” While Dr Husbands is not notified of exact addresses, she is supplied with postcodes of where those infected with the virus live. Up until Friday 40 per cent of all new cases in Hackney since lockdown measures eased have been clustered in Stamford Hill, with some grouped together in households but also a significant proportion of single cases. The other 60pc of cases in Hackney are dotted around the borough, with no pattern.
“One of the things we think might have been an issue for the Stamford Hill community in particular is there might have been some visitors coming into the country,” said Dr Husbands.
“This is just informal intelligence that I can’t prove.
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“Where you have had very low levels of virus and very little opportunity for person-to-person transmission, if you have other people coming in is, it’s a way to introduce “new virus”, to put it like that.”
She added: “It’s not surprising we are seeing an increase in cases.
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“Everywhere they have eased the lockown and people are starting to be in contact with each other again, whether that’s because they are back in the workplace or they are socialising more, even with social distancing figures in place there is more opportunity for the virus to spread.
“Lockdown is a blunt tool but it keeps people apart and there are much fewer opportunities to pass the virus from person to person and of course at some point we have to come out of lockdown. But what we have to find is a way to keep a lid on it.”
Despite the high figures in Hackney, Dr Husbands has ruled out a local lockdown for the moment.
“We are nowhere near doing a local lockdown,” she said.
“It’s a blunt tool and a complex issue in London. Locking down a borough or local area in London is going to be difficult.
“We would also need the secretary of state for health to authorise the lockdown, but even if he were to do that, and we were to ask people to stay in their home and not go to shops, there’s nothing to stop them walking over the road to a different borough. It’s something we’d have to do in a co-ordinated way across the whole of London and across the whole of London it’s not that bad.”
Dr Husbands does not think the figures represent a second wave for Hackney.
“This is a tiny upturn in the graph that was partly expected because of the ease in lockdown measures, and perhaps exacerbated by new visitors into the area,” she said.
Unlicensed music events in areas like London Fields and Woodberry Grove may have contributed to the upturn, said Dr Husbands.
“Anything where we have had people coming close together and not social distancing could have created an opportunity to spread the virus from person to person,” she said.
“The intelligence we got from the police was a lot of those people don’t live in Hackney, so we wouldn’t have seen any spike.”
Dr Husbands’ team is monitoring the situation closely, especially in the N16 area, where they are trying to support residents to understand the symptoms of Covid-19.
“We have heard that a lot of people are recognising they are getting symptoms,” she said.
“There was also some suggestion that a lot of people didn’t know how to get a test.”
A mobile testing unit was set up at Yesodey Hatorah girls school in Egerton Road on Sunday and 245 of the 250 available spaces were taken up.
Communications will be stepped up in the forthcoming week with the council sending a leaflet to every household and GPs sending out text messages, and Dr Husbands hopes figures will soon start to decrease.
Dr Husbands is considering whether to take measures like those seen in Blackburn where the local authority had no powers of enforcement but asked people to wear masks.
“We expect to see results coming in from all those people tested at the weekend, either today or tomorrow and that will give us a good indication of what’s happening in the Stamford Hill area,” she said.
“We want to look at some of those other areas and see if this is the beginning of something that could become as intense as Stamford Hill, by doing some analysis.
“We are working with the voluntary sector. They have a toolkit so they can go out and support various communities with languages that are appropriate, and in culturally appropriate ways, so they are getting the messages from a trusted source, rather than people who can be distrusting or dismissive of government messages and ignoring it.
“We are also working with Haringey Council as the Orthodox Jewish community straddles the border, and PHE for more specialist support.”
With more and more people in circulation Dr Husbands is keen to remind everyone about the “core messages” like keeping a distance, washing hands frequently, sneezing or coughing into a tissue and throwing it away and washing your hands, and otherwise to sneeze into the crook of your elbow if you don’t have a tissue so as not to contaminate surfaces, and to avoid touching other people as far as possible.
“The last government message on social distancing was a little bit confusing and some people think we reduced the distance from two metres to one metre,” said Dr Husbands referring to the rule which came into force on July 4. “And so ‘one metre plus’ means keep at least one metre apart plus use some mitigation like a mask,” she explained.
“When you are in an indoor crowded place, particularly when you don’t know people you should wear a mask, to minimise the opportunity you might spread the infection to others, and it also offers you a degree of protection.
“We have to learn to live with this strange way of living for a while, until there is so little virus in circulation that it cannot survive.”