Over 9,000 new cases of Covid-19 were reported in Birmingham in the first full week of the new year, representing a 140% increase since Christmas.
The latest figures published by Public Health England suggest that the virus is spreading quicker in Birmingham than most other major cities in the UK, including London.
Speaking to BBC Midlands Today on Monday evening, Birmingham City Council’s Director of Public Health, Dr Justin Varney, said that rising infection levels were due to a combination of social mixing over Christmas and more people leaving their homes for work than during previous lockdowns.
“The majority of new cases are in working-age adults. So in Birmingham, the highest case rates are in our 35-39 age group, followed by our 30-34 age group.”
On Twitter, Varney encouraged asymptomatic workers who cannot work from home to get bi-weekly rapid lateral-flow tests. Lateral-flow tests are currently available without an appointment at the Utilita Arena (formerly the NIA) or by appointment at three mobile testing centres and a selection of community pharmacies across the city.
Birmingham’s increase in cases means London and Liverpool are the only major cities in England with higher case rates – in the past week there were 800 new cases for every 100,000 people in Birmingham, compared to 1,100 in London and 1,080 in Liverpool.
Case levels have risen far faster in Liverpool than any other city in England. Following an Autumn where tight restrictions were imposed in Liverpool and the army were deployed to support the mass testing of asymptomatic individuals, new cases fell to just 200 for every 100,000 people in the week over Christmas. But in the past fortnight, cases in the city have increased more than five-fold.
Covid-19 patients in hospital increasing again following fall in December
The number of hospital beds occupied by patients with Covid-19 has also increased in recent weeks – on January 3rd, the latest date for which data is available, NHS Trusts across Birmingham and the West Country were treating 39% more Coivd-19 patients than on Christmas Day.
Varney said increasing transmission in the community meant “pressure on hospitals would continue to rise.”
“Until we see those case rates coming down there will be no let up for the NHS, and it will be two to three weeks after those case rates come down that the NHS starts to feel the benefit.”
In November, increasing admissions of Covid-19 patients caused some Birmingham hospitals to cancel all non-emergency appointments, while an NHS spokesman said that the Nightingale Hospital at the NEC would be readied to accept patients if pressure on hospitals continued to increase.
But a second national lockdown reduced case levels, with the knock-on effect that the number of patients with Covid-19 in hospitals in Birmingham and the Black Country began to fall. After a peak on November 19th, Covid-19 patients levels fell by almost one-quarter in only three weeks.
The end of lockdown and the spread of a new, more transmissible mutation of the virus have led to a rise in cases, which has been followed by an increase in hospital admissions. By January 3rd, more than one in three beds were occupied by Covid-19 patients in Sandwell and West Birmingham Trust hospitals and 28% of beds were taken up by patients with Covid-19 at University Hospitals Trust Birmingham.
Find out how high case rates are in your area
Reported cases are currently highest in Hall Green on the south-east edge of Birmingham. In Hall Green East, which has a population of 6,500, there were 96 new positive cases between the 30th December and 5th January – compared to only 21 between 16th and 22nd of December.