'Letting it surge': 35 COVID hotspots ahead of Boris Johnson's unlocking announcement

·4-min read

Watch: Boris Johnson to restore freedoms as he tells public to ‘learn to live’ with COVID-19

Boris Johnson will tonight tell the public to learn to live with coronavirus once England’s lockdown ends on 19 July.

At a Downing Street press conference on Monday afternoon, the prime minister will say people will have to use their own judgement in dealing with the virus.

That approach is expected to mean that from “Freedom Day” in a fortnight’s time, face masks will no longer be required in most settings, social distancing restrictions will be removed in pubs and restaurants, and the work-from-home order will be dropped.

However, a number of scientists and medical experts have expressed unease about the plans as COVID-19 case numbers accelerate rapidly across the country.

The exponential growth means that as of 29 June, the latest date for which data are available, 35 areas of the UK had more than 400 cases per 100,000 people.

Those 35 areas are listed at the bottom of this page, while the map below demonstrates the differing case rates across the UK. The darker shades of brown show where infections are highest.

A heat map of COVID case rates in the UK in the seven days up to 29 June.
A heat map of COVID case rates in the UK in the seven days to 29 June.

In the seven days to Sunday, there were 173,662 infections across the UK, up 67% on the previous seven days.

Hospital admissions, while relatively low compared to the winter, are also increasing. In the seven days to 29 June, there were 1,953 hospitalisations, up 24% from the previous week.

It's why some experts have criticised Johnson ahead of his announcement dropping COVID mitigations.

Dr Nikki Kanani, NHS England’s medical director of primary care, who has appeared alongside Johnson at past briefings, stressed the importance of face masks in preventing the spread of the disease, adding on Times Radio: "If there is advice to keep wearing masks, I know I will and I’ll be encouraging others to do so as well.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 05: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson celebrates the 73rd anniversary of the NHS at a Service of Thanksgiving at St Pauls Cathedral on July 5, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Mark Cuthbert/UK Press via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson is set to tear up England's COVID rules and mitigations, even as cases rise exponentially. (Mark Cuthbert/UK Press via Getty Images)

Prof Susan Michie, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), told The Guardian that “allowing community transmission to surge is like building new ‘variant factories’".

Prof Stephen Reicher, who advises Sage, also called for the continuation of “support and proportionate mitigations to keep us safe” from COVID. For example, he said, "masks are crucial" in "crowded, badly ventilated spaces".

There has also been strong political reaction against Johnson's impending announcement.

The Unite union, which wants masks to remain compulsory on public transport, said that to do otherwise "would be an act of gross negligence by the government" as infection rates rise, and that "the idea of personal responsibility... is absolutely ridiculous".

Labour's shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said "letting cases rise with no action means further pressure on the NHS, more sickness, disruption to education and risks a new variant emerging with a selection advantage."

He called for the government to set out an "acceptable" level of mortality.

Green MP Caroline Lucas also said of the government's expected shift to personal responsibility: "This isn't restoring freedom – it's ministers washing their hands of any responsibility."

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However, while a number of experts have criticised the government, it has been reported England's chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty – known for his caution in lockdown discussions – is supportive of the unlocking plans.

As of Saturday, 63.8% of UK adults had received both vaccines, and therefore maximum possible protection against the virus.

Care minister Helen Whately, meanwhile, told Times Radio on Monday that mask wearing was likely to continue in health and social care settings, but that she was looking forward to removing hers when she could.

Here are the 35 UK areas with more than 400 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people*

  1. Dundee City 816.4

  2. Midlothian 686.8

  3. Newcastle upon Tyne 620.2

  4. East Lothian 594.8

  5. Hyndburn 589.8

  6. City of Edinburgh 587.5

  7. Tamworth 585.4

  8. Rossendale 582

  9. South Tyneside 530.5

  10. Gateshead 517.7

  11. County Durham 516.1

  12. Oxford 515.6

  13. Renfrewshire 511.4

  14. Manchester 508.1

  15. North Tyneside 506

  16. Blackburn with Darwen 492.3

  17. Salford 491.8

  18. Burnley 485.8

  19. Wigan 483.5

  20. Sunderland 481.8

  21. East Dunbartonshire 475

  22. West Dunbartonshire 468.9

  23. East Renfrewshire 464.8

  24. Oldham 461.4

  25. North East Lincolnshire 451.9

  26. East Ayrshire 444.2

  27. Rochdale 440.6

  28. Glasgow City 438.9

  29. Liverpool 435.7

  30. Pendle 429.9

  31. Angus 424.3

  32. Warwick 417.4

  33. Leeds 406

  34. Trafford 405.3

  35. Fife 404.2

*figures cover the seven days up to Tuesday, 29 June

Watch: Monday's politics briefing