A public health official in Newcastle flouted government scientists on Friday and demanded pubs and restaurants remain open despite coronavirus cases in the city being among the worst in the UK.
Professor Eugene Milne, public health director for the city, has opposed plans by local officials to close hospitality and leisure venues next week to reduce Covid-19 infection rates and described the measures as counter-productive.
He said that the existing rules which mandate that bars shut at 10 pm had successfully reduced the spread of cases among the general population and that the current spike in rates was skewed by a “still containable” spread among new students arriving in the city.
Prof Milne said that constant revisions to the rules were leading to confusion and making the problem worse, according to a report in The Chronicle.
“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".
He urged the city authorities to direct resources towards containing the large outbreak among university students, "making sure they are properly protected, their welfare is addressed" in order to prevent a further spread into the wider population.
“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".
Prof Milne added that self-reported data from students was “more reliable” for monitoring university outbreaks, as many Test and Trace results are recording students’ home addresses rather than university address and are therefore not being included in Newcastle case figures.
Currently, rates of infection in the city are at 498.6 cases per 100,000 people, the fifth-highest in the UK. However, hospital admissions in the city remain stable and the death rates sit around the average rate seen in the last 5 years.
More than 1,000 students at Newcastle University and a further 619 at Northumbria University have been confirmed positive with the virus last week.
The local lockdown measures introduced to curb the spread of COVID 19 follow the shutting of pubs and sit-in restaurants in Scotland, as the country sees new cases return after reopening venues in July.