Birmingham neighbourhoods seeing 100-plus people catching Covid per week are being urged to take ‘every step’ to stay home and stay safe as death rates rise.
Poorer areas, including a cluster of neighbouhoods in east Birmingham, are bearing the brunt as the new variant of the coronavirus infection continues to spread at a rapid rate, heaping misery on families and filling up hospitals.
Hall Green, Sparkhill, Sparkbrook and Acocks Green are currently the hardest hit; while Handsworth Wood, Lozells and Jewellery Quarter in the west of the city are also feeling the misery of coronavirus most.
Most of the areas worst affected also feature in a list of the city’s most deprived, and often have high numbers of busy and multi generational households, overcrowded living, houses of multiple occupation and frontline, low paid workers.
Community leaders urged residents to take extra steps to stay safe and protect each other, while also pressing for more rapid rollout of the vaccine in the worst hit areas.
Cllr Paulette Hamilton, Birmingham’s cabinet member for health and social care, urged people to get tested regularly if they have to be out and about for work, shopping or to provide care – and to take no chances.
“We have not seen the level of cases this high ever,” she said.
“The relaxations and Christmas mixing and shopping might have been a factor but the virus has mutated and that is key.”
Her own family experienced coronavirus over Christmas after her young grandson tested positive, while some of her fellow city councillors have taken to social media to highlight their own experiences after catching the virus.
Cllr Hamilton especially urged large families – whether they lived together or near each other – to heed every rule, including stopping children in their families mixing.
“It is no good to have shut schools only for children and young people to be gathering in the parks or going in and out of houses – they too must keep their distance.”
She added: “I live in a multi generational household. My grandson caught Covid – if we had not done the right thing and got him tested and kept isolated it could have gone through to our more vulnerable relatives.
“People in other multi generational households or with families living side by side or in the same road must stay apart from each other.
“They cannot go in and out of each other’s homes, or meet up on the street or at the door – they really must do all they can to keep their space.”
She added: “That is the message that sometimes is missed and that is a real worry. This variant is very very infectious. Even short visits or chatting on the street can be a risk. You need to isolate in your own bubble in your own house.
“The close links people still find difficult to break. All people need to understand they cannot mix at all, no matter how minimal they think it is. If they do not keep their space it will spread. It only needs one asymptomatic people to leave that house to spread to others.”
Her fears were echoed by Cllr Shafique Shah, who represents Heartlands ward where one of the most under pressure hospitals is located, close to some of the city’s worst virus hotspots in Hall Green.
“People are very scared. The fear is there,” he said.
He said local essential shops were very quiet and people seemed to be staying home more than ever.
“This has affected every single family in this area – at least one person in a family has had symptoms, and everyone knows someone, a friend, or a neighbour, or relative, who has passed away,” said Cllr Shah.
“It is tragic.”
He said he had seen signs in the autumn of Covid fatigue, with people reluctant to wear masks when shopping – but that had disappeared now.
“The majority are doing the right thing all the time,” he said.
What was needed still was extra support to help people test and isolate, especially those who had no choice but to work.
He also flagged up fears that, while more people are now getting tested, an anti-vaxxer narrative is circulating locally.
“The situation is very worrying and people speak of the vaccine as a way out of this but I am hearing of concern about taking the vaccine and we need to work on that urgently,” said Cllr Shah.
“We need to work harder to show the vaccine is there to protect them.”
Infection is highest in the city’s Asian populations. For two weeks running, Asian residents account for more than 45 per cent of all new cases.
While the variant is rampant, there have been calls for faith settings in hotspot areas to close – a move that Cllr Hamilton said she did not back for now.
She said: “At first I was a great believer in shutting everything but the religious settings are permitted to open.
“From what I have seen in local mosques, gurdwaras and churches I do not have a problem, they are following all the rules and are Covid safe.
“I have seen the amount of effort taken to ensure this was done.”
However, she said that while some settings would choose to close – “for now people need to have that ability to go into religious settings for their mental health.”
Get a test, observe the rules
Especially vital for anyone in frontline jobs, rapid testing is seen as a vital tool for people without symptoms to check if they are safe to be at work or out in the community.
Mobile lateral flow testing sites are now open daily, 10am to 2pm, 4pm to 8pm, at:
Oaklands Youth Centre, B21 0NA
Sheldon Community Centre, B26 2RU
York Street Pay and Display Car Park, B17 0HG
Residents or anyone working in Birmingham can also get a rapid test at the Utilita Arena (formerly NIA) in Birmingham city centre.
But the biggest contribution anyone can make is to observe the rules – stay home, keep your social distance, wear a face covering.
Katie Spence, Director of Health Protection for Public Health England (PHE) in the West Midlands said: “The rapid rise in cases we are seeing across the country is highly concerning, and will sadly mean more pressure on our NHS during winter.
“That is why, wherever possible, people must stay at home and reduce contacts to reduce spread of the virus, protect the NHS and save lives.
“When outside, it is vital to observe social distancing, wear a face covering, and be sure to sanitise and wash your hands regularly. This virus will transmit wherever you let your guard down.”