Hull has been “forgotten” by central government as the city’s coronavirus cases have increased at an “astonishing and terrifying rate” to become the highest in England, its council leader has said.
Stephen Brady of Hull city council said it needed urgent national support but had received no contact from the government.
The number of coronavirus patients in Hull’s hospitals has passed the peak of the first wave and its infection rate has risen tenfold in barely five weeks.
At 770 cases per 100,000 people it is nearly triple England’s average and far higher than other Covid-19 hotspots. A council spokeswoman said public health officials were warning that the peak in Hull – which has recorded 252 coronavirus deaths – is yet to come.
In a letter to Boris Johnson on Monday, Brady said: “I am writing to express my grave concerns about the consequences of the current Covid-19 health emergency in Hull and the absence of central government support to assist us in overcoming it.
“As I am sure you are aware, our infection rate is now one of the highest in the country and … the infection rates in our city have increased at a, frankly, astonishing and terrifying rate over the last few weeks.”
He continued: “Hull and our people have dealt with some huge challenges in the past, and we have always overcome them, but, on this occasion, as has too frequently been the case in the past, we seem, once again, to be the forgotten city.”
Brady asked Johnson for more freedom to enforce local restrictions, more support from Public Health England, discussions about what will happen in Hull when the planned period of national restrictions ends, discussions about financial support for local businesses, and additional support and resources for the area’s hospitals.
On Monday the council said there were 188 confirmed Covid-positive patients in hospital in Hull, with a further 38 suspected cases.
Mike Whale, the Hull district secretary for the National Education Union, said three in every 10 children were out of school self-isolating in the city – which would amount to about 12,000 children.
He said there was huge support among Hull’s teachers to close the city’s schools until the virus was under control. “While children may not be overly vulnerable, the number of adult staff in schools who are currently isolating is really significant and schools are really struggling to stay open,” he said.
The cause of the exponential rise in cases – up from 75.4 per 100,000 on 1 October – remains unclear but Dr Cheryl Walter, a virologist at the University of Hull, has said she believes it may in part be due to the city having low immunity levels.
Hull managed to avoid the worst of the first wave and continued to have low case numbers throughout the summer, compared with other parts of northern England where the infection rate remained relatively high when the first national lockdown was lifted.
Walter said the virus may have crept over to Hull from nearby areas on the “M62 corridor”. She told the Hull Daily Mail that a potential reason for the rise was “we had little ‘community immunity’ going into the second wave, as London did and … winter is almost always a time of year when airborne infectious diseases are most prevalent”.
Boris Johnson addressed Tory MPs in northern England who have formed a pressure group that has taken Downing Street to task over the impact of Covid-19 lockdown measures. He labelled the MPs his “praetorian guard”.
More than 50 Tory MPs signed a letter to Johnson last month – before the imposition of the current 28-day restrictions – urging him to provide a “clear roadmap” out of lockdown, arguing that pandemic “has exposed in sharp relief the deep structural and systemic disadvantage faced by our communities”.
One Conservative MP on the hour-long Zoom call said: “He was on fantastic form, he took the entire meeting standing up. He was very animated, bouncy. He was clearly not a man in poor health. He said he wants us to open up as much as we can on the 2 December but that we had to recognise that this was a dangerous, nasty illness that we needed to get under control.”