Coronavirus: Pubs should stay open despite Covid surge, says Newcastle health chief

‘People have been confused enough by this. I think we need to simplify things if we can,’ says professor

Colin Drury
Saturday 10 October 2020 16:52
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Newcastle’s current rates of infection is the fifth highest anywhere in the country, but included in those figures are huge numbers of students
Newcastle’s current rates of infection is the fifth highest anywhere in the country, but included in those figures are huge numbers of students

The top public health official in one of the UK cities hardest hit by coronavirus has broken rank with government scientists to demand pubs and restaurants be allowed to remain open there.

Hospitality and leisure venues are expected to be closed in Newcastle next week as part of measures designed to reduce Covid-19 infection rates there.

But Professor Eugene Milne, public health director for the city, has become one of the first such local officials to publicly suggest such new measures could be counter-productive.

He said he believed existing rules – which includes bars shutting at 10pm – had brought the contagion down among the general population, and that current rates were being distorted by a “containable” spread among newly-arrived students.

And he added that “chopping and changing” the rules was leading to confusion among people which only exacerbated problems.

“If you ask me whether I would advocate implementing changes in the regulations we have at the moment, right now I would not,” he told Newcastle City Council’s health scrutiny committee.

“On the basis of the data that I have shown you, I think there is some evidence that it seems to have curtailed the rise in cases.”

In comments reported by The Chronicle newspaper, he added: “I would focus our efforts on containing that large outbreak among university students and making sure they are properly protected, their welfare is addressed, and we prevent any spread from that into the rest of the city.

“People have been confused enough by this. I think we need to simplify things if we can, or at least get the message over more clearly of what we have at the moment and try to work with what we have got.

“I think it may be impacting on the rates of transmission and I would like to see that go on a bit longer rather than keep chopping and changing, which I think makes the confusion worse.”

Newcastle’s current rates of infection stand at 498.6 cases per 100,000 people, the fifth highest anywhere in the country.

But included in those figures are huge numbers of students: more than 1,000 youngsters at Newcastle University and another 619 at Northumbria University tested positive for the virus in the past week.

Crucially, perhaps, hospital admissions in the city remain stable and the death rates there are at average levels for the past five years.

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