Coronavirus cases in Oxford are now higher than some of the areas in the ‘high alert’ of the government’s new three-tiered system.
For the seven days to October 10, Oxford had an infection rate per 100,000 people of 148.9 based on 227 new cases.
But areas in the West Midlands such as Sandwell with a rate of 138.2 and Wolverhampton on 122.6 are both in tier 2.
So why are we not in tier 2?
The city’s student population is likely key to why the city is only under the ‘medium’ restrictions – a 10pm curfew and the rule of six.
Oxford Brookes University has been behind hundreds of cases since September, with almost 100 new cases last week.
Oxford University, meanwhile, which has its own testing service, reported 61 new cases in the seven days to October 9.
Between the two they make up the majority of Oxford’s weekly cases.
The fact they have not spread to the wider community is one of the factors used by the government to determine the tiers.
Oxfordshire’s director of public health Ansaf Azhar has said: “The current epidemiology in Oxford shows the virus is fairly contained to younger groups and students.
“We haven’t seen significant wider spread beyond these groups just at the moment.”
Another example is Exeter, which has a rate of more than 300 but is also in tier one, with most of its cases attributed to students.
There are other factors as well
Alongside the infection rate and if outbreaks are contained are the level of hospitalisations, which are still low for the South East, as well as grouping regions together.
Every district in Oxfordshire has now reached ‘red alert’, triggered by more than 50 cases per 100,000 people.
An update from Oxfordshire County Council states in the seven days to October 9, there were 587 confirmed Covid-19 cases in the county.
This was an increase from 352 new cases the previous week and 152 the week before that.
However, the overall rate for the county of 84.9 is still low compared with other parts of the country.
The highest rate in England currently is Nottingham with a rate of more than 900.
How likely are we to go up a tier?
The government is keeping restrictions under review and so the city could find itself moved to ‘high’ alert, which would mean a ban on households mixing.
Oxford’s Lord Mayor Craig Simmons has said he believes the next couple of weeks will be crucial in seeing whether the two university’s can prevent student cases spreading to other age groups.
Mr Azhar has also stressed the current low tier for the city was ‘not a signal to relax’.
He said: “The message from me is simple and it is similar to the one that me and people who fulfil my role across the nation and indeed the world have been articulating through much of 2020.
“The coronavirus pandemic thrives on people being in close personal contact. The rules of social distancing, the rule of six, sanitising hands and wearing face-coverings were put in place to counter the circumstances in which Covid-19 can easily spread.”
He added: “As such the rules as they apply to Oxfordshire and much of England in that ‘medium’tier in the government’s new system do need to be observed very carefully. Being in this category is not a signal to relax.
“There is only one way we are going to stop the spread of this virus and that is by taking it upon ourselves as individuals, work colleagues, families and neighbours to observe the rules.”