Government looking at Midland 'coronavirus hotspot' as death toll rises

The Health Secretary says the Government is looking "very, very closely" at why there is a coronavirus hotspot in the Midlands after seven more patients died in the Black Country and Birmingham.

A person wearing a full face mask in King's Cross underground station in London
A person wearing a full face mask in King's Cross underground station in London

A total of 29 more coronavirus patients were confirmed to have died in the UK on Thursday, including three in Wolverhampton, two in Dudley and two in Birmingham.

One of the patients who died in Dudley was in their 40s and the other was in their 80s. Both had underlying health conditions.

It means the UK death toll now stands at 144, including nine in Wolverhampton, seven in Dudley, and two in Walsall. Sandwell's first and so far only death was confirmed on Wednesday.

Meanwhile the number of people who have tested positive for the virus has risen to 62 in the Black Country, with 28 of those in Wolverhampton, to 18 in Staffordshire and 34 in Birmingham.

The true number of cases is likely to be much higher due to the fact only seriously ill people are being tested by the NHS.

Asked about 28 deaths across the Midlands, Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News the Government was looking at the spread of the disease.

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"There is a hotspot - not as big as in London - but there is a hotspot in the Midlands," he said.

"It's something that we're looking at very very closely to find out why. The spread of a disease like this does tend to be in areas of hotspot and then broadening out from them.

"What we've got to do is to respond as well as possible. One of the big advantages of the NHS is that we can use the nation's resources to try to respond to this as well as possible."

The Prime Minister said on Thursday that he expects the tide to be turned in the fight within 12 weeks, as he urged the public to follow social distancing advice and for businesses to “stand by your employees”.

Meanwhile the Chancellor is to unveil an emergency package aimed at protecting workers’ jobs and wages.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has been under pressure from Labour, unions and even senior Tory MPs to do more to help workers and the stalling economy weather the crisis.

He will reveal new measures on Friday at the daily Covid-19 press conference in Downing Street, where he is expected to be joined by Boris Johnson.

It comes as Health Secretary Matt Hancock said people undergoing treatment for cancer and others who form part of a group of around 1.4 million people will receive specific advice on what to do to keep themselves safe from coronavirus.

At present, anyone with an underlying health condition such as those who usually receive an NHS flu jab, people with weakened immune systems and anyone over 70 is told to be “particularly stringent in following social distancing measures”.

But those who are at even higher risk of severe illness from Covid-19, including recipients of donor organs, those on active chemotherapy or radiotherapy, people with blood cancers and those with severe chest conditions will be given more tailored advice.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Mr Hancock said: “Many of these people have pre-existing health conditions and so will be very worried right now, and I understand that, and they’ll need very specific sets of action – for instance, how do you go about still getting your chemo if you have cancer whilst also social-distancing?

“If you have cancer it’s particularly important to stay away from other people, but you also of course have got to keep going with your chemotherapy.”

And he suggested that tougher measures could have to be brought in if people do not follow the Government’s advice.

He told the BBC’s Breakfast programme: “What I can say is that if people follow the advice, stay home, which saves lives, and if they keep apart from others – more than two metres, more than six foot – then we can tackle this and we can turn the tide.

“The scientists advise that we can turn the tide in 12 weeks if people follow the advice. If people don’t follow the advice, then it’ll be longer and we might have to bring more and tougher measures.”

Mr Hancock said the UK had brought measures in earlier than Italy, which has now suffered more deaths than China, and that some retired medics who return to work in the NHS to fight the coronavirus will be able to come “straight back in”.

Elsewhere:

  • A third person who tested positive for coronavirus in Wales has died.

  • The FTSE 100 rose by more than 5 per cent in early trading on Friday with travel companies jumping ahead after a bruising few weeks.

  • Conservative MP Maria Caulfield announced she was returning to her job as a nurse alongside her political role.

  • A man was arrested on the Isle of Man for failing to follow its coronavirus self-isolation rules.

  • The competition watchdog said it will clamp down on retailers using the coronavirus outbreak as an opportunity to exploit customers.

  • The Changing the Guard ceremonies at Buckingham Palace, St James’s Palace and Windsor Castle are being postponed until further notice.

  • Downing Street expects post-Brexit talks to continue despite Boris Johnson’s chief negotiator David Frost showing symptoms of the coronavirus. His EU counterpart, Michel Barnier, tested positive on Thursday.

  • The death toll from the coronavirus in Spain now stands at 1,002 and nearly 20,000 people have been infected.

Locally, a West Midlands pharmacy chain faced heavy criticism after temporarily raising the price of paracetamol and calpol at some of its stores.

Jhoots' branch in Kingswinford left customers in shock when it it changed the price of a pack of 32 paracetamol from its normal £1.20 per packet to £8, while a branch in Birmingham was charging £10 for Calpol. The head office blamed the changes on an "erroneous communication" and said customers would be refunded.

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