Coronavirus: The full picture behind Southwark’s stats

Josh Salisbury (25 March, 2020)

Stats include those who have recovered and not all will be residents

35313Picture of the coronavirus

Southwark is the at epicentre of the coronavirus crisis – holding an unenviable position of logging among the highest numbers of confirmed cases in the country daily.

The speed at which Covid-19 has developed will have no doubt caught many by surprise.

Just two weeks ago, the number of cases in our borough could have been counted on your fingers, with nine cases.

Now, at the time of writing on Wednesday morning, there are more than twenty times as many cases at 187.

This is the fourth-highest of any local authority area in the country, with neighbouring Lambeth behind only Hampshire with its recording of 188 confirmed cases.

What, then, do these stats tell us about Covid-19 in our area? Firstly, it’s important to note that these are only confirmed cases.

The number of actual cases is thought to be much higher. At the moment, testing is concentrated on those in hospitals.

The majority of people who catch coronavirus are asked to isolate at home and are not tested, and so are not counted in the totals.

It can be tricky to know from the statistics published by government how many of these people logged as having coronavirus in Southwark actually live here.

Responding to questions from the News, a Public Health England spokeswoman said the statistics aimed to show those who lived in Southwark who had coronavirus.

But in some cases, they will be logged by the hospital they are seen at, rather than where they live.

“It intends to show borough of residence for each case, with the caveat that there will be occasions where cases are allocated by the hospital where they were tested rather than home address,” she said.

“The statisticians then ‘clean’ the data over time, ie checking postcodes, so we might see slight shifts in the figures by local authority as time goes by.”

Two weeks of cases in March

The stats are partly-influenced by the major hospitals serving Southwark, including Guy’s and St Thomas’, which is one of the UK’s specialist infectious disease centres, and was where at the start of the outbreak, many patients were transferred.

Figures too, include not just those who have got the coronavirus now, but also those who have recovered according to council officials.

There are other reasons why coronavirus might have appeared to taken a hold in Southwark compared to other local authorities across the country.

As an inner-city London borough, Southwark is quite dense, meaning people are more likely to come into contact with one another, despite the instruction to socially distance.

“Southwark’s figures appear higher as we began testing earlier than many other boroughs and the figures include patients who have recovered,” said Southwark Council leader Cllr Peter John.

“Social distancing is particularly hard in central London, with so many people tightly packed together.

“It’s also really tough on residents with limited or no outdoor space and where they are already overcrowded and awaiting bigger homes.

“Homelessness has long been a problem in central London and Southwark Council has the largest local authority social housing stock in London with 55,000 homes, the majority made up of flats.

“This was always going to be a challenge in both housing and public health terms.”

There are things that scientists and researchers still do not fully know over the epidemiology of coronavirus, say Tooley Street officials, and we are yet to learn completely what we can do to prevent the spread of viruses in densely populated areas like Southwark.

“We are yet to learn everything about how the virus spreads, and what we should do in the future to mitigate the spread of viruses in densely populated areas,” added Cllr John.

“We are working hard to support residents with social distancing and during isolation and disseminating Government information.

“The council is closely following the advice of the Government on health and safety while officers continue with critical business such as emergency repairs and maintaining lifts and communal areas.

“During the crisis, local authorities still have to fulfil essential front line work to keep residents safe, warm and dry in their homes.”


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