Putting Oldham under lockdown based on coronavirus case numbers is 'incoherent and unsustainable', a leading professor has said.
Carl Heneghan, professor of evidence-based medicine at the University of Oxford, told BBC Newsnight that the government should let test and trace do its job before considering a lockdown.
Oldham’s council leader said on Wednesday day that a lockdown in the town was a “very real threat”, but warned it would be “catastrophic” for the local economy.
The town currently has one of the highest rates of new COVID-19 infections in England, despite already facing tighter restrictions along with the rest of Greater Manchester.
Heneghan said ministers had got it “wrong” by looking at the problem solely on cases.
He said: “If I look at the number of people in hospital right now there are about 1,250 across the Pennine Trust, only nine of them actually have COVID in a bed today.”
“And so when you focus on cases you get this wrong and there’s a threshold in this where you’re talking about 0.0005 of the population you’re going to bring in lockdown measures and I think this is incoherent and unsustainable.”
Heneghan said the virus was still circulating at a low level and the best course of action would be to let the area’s test and trace system do its work.
“We have established ways of understanding when people become symptomatic and consult, you use that to drive the lockdown,” he said.
He added a better way was to use figures based on how many people arrive at hospital seeking treatment, noting other areas of the country have higher numbers than Oldham.
A high proportion of people in Oldham are asymptomatic so the best course of action is to pause and let the test and trace system function, Heneghan said.
Oldham councillor Sean Fielding told reporters on Wednesday that a local lockdown was being considered by the government.
Figures for the seven days to 15 August showing a rate of 83.1 new cases per 100,000 – one of the highest in England.
Latest case numbers for GM 👇— Andy Burnham (@AndyBurnhamGM) August 19, 2020
I am writing to @MattHancock, with the support of all 10 Leaders, calling for:
▪️no new restrictions on Oldham beyond those already in place
▪️relaxation of the ban on gatherings in Wigan
▪️further business opening allowed everywhere (ex Oldham) pic.twitter.com/4OqlMicd6N
This is a decrease from 109.7 in the seven days to 8 August.
When Leicester was locked down on 29 June it had an infection rate of 135 per 100,000.
Fielding said the council was “resisting” a local lockdown, with Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham also insisting there was “no case” for such measures.
“It is very real. It is a very real threat for Oldham, make no mistake at all, but we are resisting it strongly for all of the reasons that I’ve set out today,” Fielding said.
Burnham insisted he believed the strategy already in place was working.
He said their approach was “highly targeted, it is proportionate, and we believe that the case is made to continue what we are doing, to see if we can then create a further decrease in the coming days”.
“So there is certainly no case today to impose further restrictions on Oldham beyond the prohibition of social gatherings in the home,” he added.
Fielding said cases were mainly spreading through households with the borough suffering from crowded living conditions and high levels of deprivation.
According to Save the Children, the town has the highest rate of child poverty in England and warned deprivation could soar if there is a local lockdown.
On Wednesday, health secretary Matt Hancock did not rule out a local lockdown in the town, telling Times Radio that the government will do “what is necessary” while working closely with the council.