Wealthy seats and new Tory strongholds have evaded lockdown despite having higher infection rates than areas experiencing tighter restrictions, leaked emails have shown.
Emails between health officials leaked to the Sunday Times show there is growing pressure to explain why large parts of the Midlands and the North are under local lockdowns while seats such as the prime minster’s in Oxbridge and South Ruislip were being “treated differently”.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, decides which areas to placed under lockdown during weekly “gold” meetings. There is no official coronavirus infection rate that riggers a lockdown.
But on Thursday, Professor Dominic Harrison, a public health director for the Blackburn with Darwen, the largest borough in wider Lancashire, wrote to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) saying the measures were “avoidably increasing economic inequality”.
He wrote: “There is now a different level of central control applied across local authorities, with some of the more economically challenged boroughs being placed into more restrictive control measures at an earlier point in their… case rate trajectory.”
“This has the effect of exacerbating the economic inequality impacts of the virus in those areas. We urgently need consistency in the national strategy if the control system itself is not to add to inequality, giving an economic ‘double whammy’ to more challenged areas.”
Blackburn with Darwen is one of the country’s poorest boroughs. Its Covid rate peaked at 212 weekly cases per 100,000 people and wards with more than 60 weekly cases were put under lockdown back in August. A similar benchmark has been used elsewhere.
But Professor Harrison also showed how wealthier areas with similar or higher infection rates were avoiding being placed under tighter restrictions.
Richmondshire in North Yorkshire, home to Rishi Sunak’s constituency of Richmond, which is also one of the least deprived areas in Britain, has 73 new weekly cases per 100,000 people.
Newark and Sherwood, seats held by housing minister Robert Jenrick and chief whip Mark Spencer, has 84 cases.
All three have avoided lockdown.
In contrast, Wolverhampton has 56 cases, Chorley, at 72, and Lancaster at 66, and Oadby and Wigston at 63, are all subject to tough measures, the paper reported.
Even more alarming, the Times points out, is the rate among “red wall” seats won by the Tories in last year’s general elections.
Barrow-in-Furness has a case load of 112 people per 100,000, Darlington at 110, and Wakefield at 73. All three are not under lockdown.
Steve Reed, shadow housing secretary, said: “People living in the North and Midlands will be asking why they’re having to face restrictions when other parts of the country face restrictions that have seen infections rise are not.”
The DHSC said the incidence rate was only one criterion considered in deciding on lockdowns.