Council explains why Cambridge will not move to tier 2 lockdown

Covid-19 infection rates continue to rise well above the government’s threshold for stricter measures in both Cambridge and Peterborough, but for now neither are likely to enter local lockdowns, according to the county council.

Places with an infection rate of over 100 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people become candidates to move into the stricter tier 2 lockdown.

However, the lockdown tier for every location is done on a case by case basis, and the move is not automatically done based on the infection rate.

Currently both Cambridge and Peterborough exceed this threshold, with respective rates of 180.3 and 127.1 per 100,000 cases.

For Cambridge, the current infection rate is significantly over the government’s tier 2 threshold. However, it appears that a local lockdown is not coming to the city.

When CambridgeshireLive asked the council about a possible move into a tier 2 lockdown, a spokesperson said that it would be the government’s decision to put the city in lockdown.

At this time there are no plans to move Cambridge from tier 1 to tier 2 because the government does not make the decision to increase lockdown restrictions based on the rates alone.

Instead there are many factors involved, including the age and health of most of the cases. In Cambridge the majority of positive cases are young people, who are less likely to develop complications with the virus or be hospitalised.  The ‘robust’ way Cambridgeshire University is testing its students may also contribute to more cases being identified.

“In Cambridge the sharpest rise in the rate of infection has been among the younger age group”

Dr Liz Robin, Director of Public Health for Cambridgeshire County Council, said: “There are a number of issues that the government would take into consideration alongside general Covid-19 infection rates, when considering whether an area should move tiers.

“This would include the infection rates in older and more vulnerable groups, who are most likely to be hospitalised.

Dr Liz Robin, director of Public Health at Cambridgeshire County Council and Peterborough City Council
(Image: Cambridgeshire County Council)

“In Cambridge City we know that the sharpest rise in the rate of infection has been among the younger age group, particularly 18-24 year olds and that the proactive testing programme for Cambridge University students has contributed to this.”

This means the rate in Cambridge is so high because of the influx of students to the city and because the university is testing all of its students staying in colleges each week. This active testing means cases might be higher but they can try to keep outbreaks to a minimum.

Cambridge University is actually piloting a new way of testing households together, where each student in a hall is swabbed separately, but all the swabs of the hall are tested together.

If there’s a positive test, the entire hall would have to isolate anyway, and this method puts less strain on labs.

Dr Robin added: “We are discovering more infections in the student age group thanks to the proactive work that Cambridge University is doing in both testing students who aren’t showing any symptoms, and encouraging any students with symptoms to get a test.

“This means that they can be supported to isolate quickly, and will ultimately help to bring down rates of infection and prevent it spreading to the wider population.

“It is inevitable that this will put our rates up initially as Cambridge is a major university city.”

Peterborough’s rates of infection were sixth highest in England

An empty Peterborough city centre during Lockdown
(Image: Cambridge News)

The reason for why the rate in Peterborough is high, however, is not such a simple answer, but Dr Robin indicated that the rate would be much higher if hadn’t been for efforts to reduce it.

She said: “There are a range of reasons that the rates of infection in Peterborough are high – which is why at one point in July Peterborough’s rates of infection were the 6th highest in England.

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“We have worked tirelessly with the local community to bring the rates down and they are now below the national average, but this work has to continue – as we remind people to limit their contacts with other households, stay at least two metres apart, practice good hand hygiene, wear masks in any shared transport – and if they have any symptoms or come into contact with anyone who has – get a test and isolate.”

For now there are no plans for a local lockdown in Cambridge or Peterborough despite the rate of Covid-19 cases continuing to increase above the tier 2 threshold. In stark contrast to these cities many rural areas of Cambridgeshire have some of the lowest rates in the UK. You can learn more here.

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