Covid ‘perfect storm’ led to high rates in poorest communities – report

Tom Pilgrim, PA
·3-min read

England’s most deprived communities were hit by a “perfect storm” of wage, housing and testing-and-trace issues that led to high coronavirus rates, according to reports of an unpublished government analysis.

The Guardian newspaper said it had seen a report by the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) which concluded people in poorer areas were less likely to be able to self-isolate due to being unable to afford lost income.

The study found that in Blackburn-with-Darwen and Leicester, areas badly affected by the pandemic, more people had been rejected than accepted when they sought financial help to self-isolate, increasing the likelihood they could not follow self-isolation rules.

The JBC, which was established in May last year, aims to provide “evidence-based, objective analysis” to inform official decision-making over Covid-19 outbreaks.

According to the Guardian, its report, marked “Official Sensitive” and produced last month, said “interconnected factors” such as deprivation, poor housing and work conditions, and test-and-trace system delays, were “likely to be significant contributors” to high coronavirus rates in some parts of the country.

Researchers looked at six months’ worth of data from the Covid-hit areas of Blackburn-with-Darwen, Bradford and Leicester and compared it against three other areas with similar socioeconomic issues but lower coronavirus case rates.

Areas with a higher proportion of people employed in public-facing roles, for example taxi drivers or supermarket workers, were likely to see high infection rates.

The study reportedly said: “Having high numbers of people in high-risk occupation is not specific to just these enduring areas. This in isolation is not a reason for enduring transmission, but rather along with a range of other factors, overlaid, that create the ‘perfect storm’.”

It also said that “existing socioeconomic inequality” had left black, Asian and minority ethnic (Bame) communities more exposed to coronavirus due to living in cramped, multigenerational housing in deprived areas and working in public-facing jobs.

The Guardian said the JBC report also raised criticisms of the NHS Test and Trace programme.

It said “anecdotal insight” pointed to locally-led contact tracing being “more responsive and more effective” due to an understanding of local communities’ needs.

Contact-tracing data was also not given to local authorities quickly enough to contain outbreaks, the study said, with delays in the sharing of data affecting their ability to contain virus transmission.

The report said there was “no silver bullet” to resolve the issue of ongoing coronavirus transmission, with it likely being down to a combination of linked factors including deprivation, employment and household composition.

A Government spokesperson said: “We do not comment on leaks.

“We recognise this is an incredibly difficult time for many people and we launched the Test and Trace Support Payment to help people who cannot work from home to self-isolate.

“We are working with England’s 314 local authorities to monitor the effectiveness of the scheme – including any impact on groups who may be ineligible for it.

“Local and national contact tracing teams are working in lockstep with NHS Test and Trace to break chains of transmission, and their efforts are paying off, with over 8 million people contacted and told to isolate by the 300 local contact tracing partnerships in operation.”