Huge coronavirus outbreaks at Newcastle’s universities have been “contained very effectively”, according to the city’s public health director.
Prof Eugene Milne has revealed new data showing a substantial fall in the number of new Covid-19 cases being recorded among young people in the city.
Newcastle and Northumbria universities have both been hit with major outbreaks of the virus, with thousands of cases reported.
However, Prof Milne has hailed a “remarkable” drop in new infections over the last couple of weeks.
Graphs he presented to the City Futures Board on Tuesday showed how at one stage earlier this month there were around 330 new Covid cases being reported in 15 to 24-year-olds every day – but that number is down to around 70 according to most recent data.
Newcastle City Council published a new Covid-19 dashboard on Tuesday, adding in cases of students whose positive tests had previously been attributed to their home rather than university address.
Questions had previously been raised over why the massive number of local cases being reported by Newcastle and Northumbria universities was not being reflected in the official figures from Public Health England.
But Prof Milne said that, even though the peak of new infections earlier this month was higher than first thought, numbers are still dropping “in exactly the same way” regardless of which data is used.
He added that the student outbreak “looks as if it is being contained very effectively” and praised the vast majority of students for self-isolating when asked to.
The public health director said: “I know there is a visible number who don’t do that and have caused worries and problems, but actually you don’t see the people who are complying – a large number of students have done that and we should be grateful for that too.”
The number of Covid infections among other age groups in the city had remained significantly lower than in the 15-24 bracket, though there had been an increase across the board.
But Prof Milne added that he is now “pretty confident that there is a genuine fall going on in a number of age bands across the city” as a result of the Tier 2 local lockdown measures currently in force in the North East.
He said that cases among people aged 65 and over are not plateauing as convincingly as in other age groups, but are still only at 10 to 12 new cases per day.
Prof Milne said: “I would much rather we were back at that level of one to two (new cases per day) which we saw back at the early part of September, but I think it indicates where we actually need to focus a lot of our efforts over the coming weeks and months.
“Protecting this age band, which is the most vulnerable of the ages along with those who have pre-existing conditions, is going to be critical to striking the balance within the city that we have been trying to achieve.”
There were six Covid-related deaths recorded in Newcastle last week, however city hospitals chief executive Dame Jackie Daniel told Tuesday’s meeting that there remains a low and steady number of Covid patients in intensive care units.
Health secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons on Tuesday that there are “early signs that the number of cases in the North East is starting to flatten”.
He added: ''In the first instance, that is happening among younger people and I am still worried about the number of cases for over 60s who of course are the people who are most likely to end up in hospital or worse.
''So we will keep a very close eye on the situation but we have no imminent plans to make a change and were the clinical advice to change that we needed to move urgently, then of course we would seek to do that with the support of the local area.''