UK News Areas of Wales have 'highest levels' of coronavirus in UK - because England is under-reporting cases

23:16  30 june  2020
23:16  30 june  2020 Source:   dailypost.co.uk

Coronavirus cluster at third meat processing plant in Wales

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a person standing in front of a building: A Covid-19 testing unit © BCUHB A Covid-19 testing unit

Figures show that eight out of the 10 UK councils with the highest positive test results for coronavirus per population are in Wales - however it appears that all is not quite as it seems.

The maps of councils with the most Covid-19 cases in the UK has been troubling since the start of the pandemic in March and if you look at it today the top 10 features Merthyr Tydfil, Denbighshire, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Cardiff, Wrexham, Conwy, the Vale of Glamorgan and Newport. The other two are Midlothian and Dundee in Scotland.

However, on closer examination of the figures, even though there has been a tragic loss of life, none of these areas have recorded the most deaths of people from suspected coronavirus in the UK, according to ONS weekly stats, reports Wales Online.

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And over the last few days, it has not made sense that local authorities in Wales appear to have had the biggest rise in coronavirus cases while England has been locking down Leicester.

An investigation by the Financial Times has revealed that this is largely due to the fact hat England has been publishing the wrong data.

Its reporters have shown that the figures being published for the English council area "contain only a fraction of the real total in those areas".

England is only including the results of one type of test in the data it is publishing for local authorities - the number of positive tests recorded in hospitals.

In its rolling total for each local authority, Wales includes both the results of these tests (called pillar one) results but also the results of tests done in commercial labs and at home (so called pillar two).

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In the last two months, the vast majority of the tests done in England have been in pillar two - yet they haven't been counted in the local data. They are counted in the UK and English data - but not the council area figures.

For instance, the FT reported that Leicester's published data shows it recorded just 80 new positive tests between June 13-26.

But really it has had 944 cases over the same period - as was revealed when England's health secretary Matt Hancock closed non-essential shops and ordering schools to shut to all non-key worker pupils.

There is also another reason why the high number of positive tests in North Wales in recent weeks is not as concerning as it looks.

We spoke to Graham Brown, who is a consultant in communicable disease control and the chair of the outbreak control team for the Anglesey outbreak, to get his thoughts on the issue.

He said that the high number of positive tests showed officials were effectively spotting infections early - while other indications from hospitals showed the spread of Covid-19 had not reached the levels seen at the start of the outbreak.

North Wales communities with highest coronavirus infection rates

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“There are figures for people who go into hospital with compatible symptoms so we know about those cases. There is also admissions for ITU and critical care - that is another factor we look at. that gives us some knowledge," he said.

What does the data show?

The amount of deaths from the disease, a key indicator of a serious and sustained outbreak, are not significantly higher in North Wales.

This chart tracks the amount of deaths in different parts of Wales and shows that the spike in cases in recent weeks in North Wales has not been followed by a spike in deaths.

Another reason why looking at confirmed case figures is a blunt instrument is because it both fails to take into account the amount of tests carried out, and the size of the population.

This map shows how many confirmed cases there have been after adjustments for testing and population:

It shows* that the distribution of cases between the north and south are actually fairly even - with the virus focuses in areas with the most dense population.

Why have cases in North Wales increased over the last month?

Disease expert Mr Brown claims that figures have gone up so much due to a shifting in testing focus to that part of the country.

What is a local lockdown and could it happen in Scotland?

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He said: “It is predominantly because we have tested in a pretty targeted way around two significant outbreaks in the area. When you go looking for Covid-19 you find Covid-19.

“There are a couple of large mass testing sites and at the moment things are pretty stable.

“There is nothing out there that is indicating we are seeing a massive surge of infections in the wider community. In terms of hospital admissions and some of the bio surveillance indicators, they are not showing that there is a massive surge in community transmission in the area at the moment. but obviously we keep that on the constant review on our dashboards and it is updated on a daily basis.

“It is an iceberg. What we can see are the people with very severe disease and need critical care. Underneath them you have the people who require hospital admission. Below then you have got people in the wider community who have symptoms and present to their GP or ring NHS Direct.

“Below them you've got the people who don't seek medical attention to find information online and then beneath them you have the individuals who have had it but don't have symptoms.”

However there are also some parts of the North Wales’ demographics that mean there are more likely to see severe cases.

“The demographics of the area will contribute to how the cases present and how many we are likely to see,” said Mr Brown.

Four new coronavirus deaths recorded in North Wales

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“Certainly with old age groups and the care homes we have a large number of those in North Wales so will expect to see particularly more severe cases which is also why we look at the hospital data and hospital admissions to understand what is going on.

“Rurality has a part to play as well. In rural areas you are, by default socially distanced, from individuals because of geography that introduces natural barriers between transmission.

“Obviously in urban areas where you have more people you will likely have more cases in places like Wrexham for example, because you have a larger centre of population you are going to see more cases compared to some of the more rural areas.”

Will there be a wider outbreak in North Wales?

Mr Brown said: “I don't think there is anything particularly alarming coming out of North Wales which says ‘hang on a minute there is something going on here’.”

* The figures for the second map were calculated by taking the percentage of positive tests and multiplying the population adjusted figure by that. So if all the tests had been positive, you'd have multiplied by 1. If only 10% were positive you multiply by 0.1. This gives a theoretical estimate of how many positive tests there would have been if all areas had seen the same level of testing.

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