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UK Government accused of withholding Pillar 2 COVID-19 data which show Leicester had 10 times more cases than reported pre-lockdown

Published on 01/07/20 at 06:01pm
Image Credit: Mat Fascione

The UK Government warned when relaxing lockdown measures on 23 June that it would not hesitate to lock down any region which began to show an uncontrolled rise in COVID-19 cases.

Just a week later, it was forced to make good on the warning and enforce a regional lockdown on the city of Leicester from 2 July; it was confirmed the city would not be relaxing lockdown measures with the rest of the country on 4 July as expected, with retail stores which had opened on 15 June forced to close again on 30 June.

Now, it has emerged that this huge surge in COVID-19 cases within Leicester is visible in Pillar 2 data now released, but not the previously available Pillar 1 data.

Pillar 1 testing data is widely available, generated from testing at hospitals. But Pillar 2 data, derived from drive-through testing centres and at-home testing kits harvested by commercial laboratories, have not been made available to the public or been included the UK’s Government’s own reporting.

Despite obvious concerns over transparency, this did not cause a problem in the early stages of the UK outbreak when the vast majority of testing was carried out a hospital sites, painting a relatively clear picture of the number of cases. Now, three months since lockdown was imposed, the majority of testing is conducted at home or in drive-through centres.  

So these Pillar 2 data become essential in order for regional authorities to identify and act on any spike in prevalence of the virus. Despite the requests of regional health teams since the beginning of May, these data were not provided by government. MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, Yvette Cooper, tweeted: “Our local public health teams, council, NHS doctors & managers in Wakefield have had to fight for months to try to get this data. In public health crisis, most important thing is knowing where infection is. Appalling & incomprehensible that basic info hasn’t been provided”

In the Pillar 1 data for Leicester, there were 80 cases confirmed between 13 and 26 June. When the Pillar 2 data is also taken into account, the true number of confirmed cases turns out to be 944.

The same situation has also been seen in Manchester. With their access requests to Pillar 2 data denied, local officials worked on the assumption that there were 78 Pillar 1 cases in the city. The Pillar 2 data show the true figure was six times higher at 465.

Machester Mayor Andy Burnham called the figure a “warning sign to look at very carefully indeed,” adding: “It can’t be the case that we’re back to normal. We’re not. There’s a large amount of this virus circulating in Greater Manchester.”

These concerns are further compounded by the earlier revelation that Deloitte, the contract holder with the UK Government which runs COVID-19 test centres across the country, is not required under its terms to share its findings with public health bodies.

In response to a parliamentary question tabled on 19 May, Minister for Mental Health, Suicide, Prevention and Patient Safety, Nadine Dorries  confirmed this on 11 June: “The contract with Deloitte does not require the company to report positive cases to Public Health England and local authorities.”

Matt Fellows

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