Government is monitoring spike in Bristol coronavirus cases, says mayor
THE Government is closely monitoring the spike in coronavirus in Bristol, the mayor has warned.
Marvin Rees said there had been 103 cases in the seven days to September 30, taking the city’s rate beyond 20 per 100,000 people, which he previously said would be the trigger to come to the attention of ministers.
But Mr Rees said the “civil service firepower” would be unlikely to be dispatched down the M4 from Whitehall because Covid-19 numbers were much higher elsewhere.
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, the city mayor said Bristol’s current rate was now 22.2 per 100,000 residents, up from about 16 last week and taking the total to 1,814 cases since the start of the pandemic.
He said it remained a “cause for concern but not alarm” and that the rate in Liverpool was 231.5 and in Bolton over 190.
North Somerset and Bath & North East Somerset’s rates are both 25 while South Gloucestershire is 19.
Mr Rees said: “We need to be wary because there is a margin for error as it relies on a testing system that has something to be desired, but we have an indication our numbers are going up.
“But we are doing relatively well compared to the rest of the country.
“Inevitably when the numbers go up, the Government will be watching.
“No doubt we will be looked at as part of a national level of risk that has been increasing through the easing of lockdown.
“But when you look at the numbers up north and how much they’ve gone up, you can imagine that that level of focus will be on that particular outbreak.
“The real trigger is when you get to around 40 to 50 cases per 100,000, but particularly 50.
“That is when they step in and say ‘what’s going on here?’
“If you’re minister and you’re looking around saying ‘where do I need to be lending my civil service firepower?’, you would be looking to places where the prevalence is 100 to 150 and over 200.
“Would you be saying ‘Bristol is on 22 cases per 100,000, let’s send the civil servants down there to sort it out’?
“By definition you wouldn’t. But nonetheless you would be saying ‘the numbers are going up, let’s keep an eye on it’ as I would expect them to do, and as we are doing.”
He said Bristol had done an effective job as a city to anticipate the risks before they arrived, such as the return to school and work, students coming back to university and increased use of public transport.
“All these things need to happen because they are part of a functioning city, functioning education system and functioning economy and we pay a price if they are not happening,” the mayor said.
“But as they begin to happen and people start moving around and coming into proximity of each other, the level of risk goes up.”
He said the rise in cases was the natural result of the easing of lockdown rather than “bad behaviour” by individuals flouting the rules.
Mr Rees said the pandemic would cause joblessness and poverty and increase inequality.
“The forecast is for job losses in the area,” he said.
“Those job losses will disproportionately fall on those areas most distant from economic opportunity, and with any uptick in the economy on the other side, those communities will be least well-placed to benefit from that.
“We will see an increase in inequality and that is what we are mobilising ourselves to get ahead of.
“We have seen a steep rise in the number of people claiming unemployment benefits, up by 12,000 between March and July, a 59 per cent increase.”
He said a government job support scheme starting in November would not help people in industries still in lockdown because it was for employees who could work at least a third of their hours.
“That means those who work in venues that are closed – nightclub bouncers, theatre ushers, staff in many of the live music venues – will miss out,” Mr Rees said.
“We have co-signed a letter asking for programmes to avoid mass redundancies and unemployment.
“It may cost something to do so but the long-term cost of not doing so will be significantly greater.”
By Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporting Service