15/10/2020 06:00 BST | Updated 15/10/2020 07:33 BST

How A Fortnight Of Faffing Left Nottingham With England’s Worst Coronavirus Rate

Furious leaders and residents in the East Midlands city say they were “left to fend for themselves”.

Waking up to new government restrictions finally coming into force in Nottingham – the city with the worst coronavirus rate in England – Lisa Allison experienced conflicting emotions.

She felt relief that measures had finally been taken to tackle the huge rise in coronavirus cases affecting Nottingham. But she also believed they didn’t go far enough to curb the virus.

Nottingham has been placed in tier 2 of the new three-tier lockdown system, escaping the most severe restrictions of tier 3 despite having the highest number of cases per 100,000 in the UK. It’s a move Allison brands as “ridiculous”.

A total of 2,547 new Covid-19 cases were recorded in the East Midlands city in the seven days to October 12 – the equivalent of 765.1 per 100,000 people. Only Derry City and Strabane in Northern Ireland has more, with 991.6 cases.

Lisa Allison, who lives in Nottingham

Allison, 52, had been anxiously watching the case numbers. She has numerous health conditions and had to shield during the national lockdown.

“As someone at risk of extreme complications if I contracted Covid-19, it is frightening to see cases rise like this.” she said. “Until recently, I took comfort in the knowledge that transmission rates in the city were low.

“Despite needing hospital tests and treatment, I am now worried about visiting hospital.”

Allison firmly believes Nottingham has been let down by a government that “failed to act consistently and speedily given how quickly the virus can spread” and she considers the new restrictions “too little, too late”.

“The government has failed to properly engage with the local authority and our leaders seem to have been as much in the dark as the public, which is pretty unnerving and destabilising,” she said.

“I almost feel like Nottingham has been a test case for seeing what happens when additional restrictions are not put in place in an area. We’ve been treated like guinea pigs.

“It’s clear to see now that, without restrictions, coronavirus can spiral.

“We should not have been left behind and I feel the people of Nottingham have been badly let down.”

I almost feel like Nottingham has been a test case for seeing what happens when additional restrictions are not put in place in an area. We’ve been treated like guinea pigsLisa Allison who lives in Nottingham

Allison was angry to see Sherwood MP and Conservative chief whip Mark Spencer telling Nottinghamshire Live that the people of Nottingham should have used their “common sense” and “taken responsibility for themselves” before the government restrictions were put in place. “If common sense alone reduces transmission, why have restrictions in the first place?” she asked.

“It feels as though the people of Nottingham were left to fend for ourselves and work things out while the government focused on other areas of the country.”

OLI SCARFF via Getty Images
A board displaying information how to restrict the spread of coronavirus in Nottingham

Nottingham musician James Laverty, 27, agrees that the city has been overlooked. “A lot of the attention around coronavirus has been focused on the north-south divide,” he said.

“With Nottingham floating in the middle, and being in the East Midlands, it feels like we’ve been forgotten and neglected while the attention has been focused on places like Manchester and Liverpool.”

James Laverty
James Laverty, 27, a musician who lives in Nottingham

James suffered a sudden cardiac arrest two-and-a-half years ago after going for a run and was fitted with an implantable defibrillator. He lives with his parents and his dad was shielding during the lockdown due to health conditions.

“I think some restrictions were lifted too early in July and, as people mixed more, it was clear cases were going to start creeping up,” he said.

“Greater numbers of people have gone back to work and more people were using public transport and that is bound to have an effect.

“But I also believe that while people abided by social distancing rules at first, as time went on, they became lax.

“People wrongly presumed coronavirus had gone away and that we’d beaten it.”

The city’s political chief is David Mellen, leader of Nottingham City Council.

He knows all too well how slow the government was to react to Nottingham’s soaring infection rate.

Nottingham saw a dramatic rise in infections a fortnight ago. The addition of hundreds of “missed” positive cases due to a Test and Trace blunder saw its infection rate soar to nearly 300 per 100,000, sparking further concern among local leaders and a push for government restrictions.

But none came.

“We were led to believe restrictions would come into place last week,” said Mellen. “But it clearly did not fit in with government’s plans for a big announcement.

“It felt like we were abandoned as we did not fit in with their timetable.”

Every other city with infections at a similar level was under some form of local lockdown.

Nottingham City Council

As news began to leak that stricter measures were imminent, rather than waiting for the government announcement, Nottingham leaders issued their own guidance to residents last Thursday urging them not to mix with other households or to go out partying at the weekend ahead of the new restrictions.

“The guidelines we issued were quite similar to the tier 2 restrictions that have now been brought in,” said Mellen.

“With this now becoming legislation, we will have more clout behind what we asked people to do.”

But one of the biggest questions on people’s lips is why Nottingham has not been placed into tier 3 lockdown when it has the highest infection rate in the country.

Mellen told HuffPost UK he believed the government took into account Nottingham’s hospitals, which are not experiencing the same pressures as some parts of the country.

“Although our hospitals are getting busier, they are not under undue pressure as yet,” he explained. “Also, we don’t have as many cases of the virus in our over-65 population. The majority of our cases are among younger people.”

Some are blaming the city’s 50,000 university students for the surge in cases: figures reveal that around three-quarters of new positive cases in a seven-day period were among young people aged 18 to 22.

With Nottingham having two large universities – the University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent University – Mellen said it was not surprising there has been such a spike among young people. But he doesn’t blame them. “Universities were encouraged to bring students in by the government,” he said.

A woman wearing a face mask in Nottingham.

The government has left the city in no doubt that it will be moved to tier 3 if things don’t improve quickly, Mellen added.

He fears the government’s delays and inaction for the last couple of weeks could have serious repercussions. “Unfortunately, in that time, the number of coronavirus infections has gone up and the number of people who have gone into hospital with coronavirus has gone up. 

“Sadly, some of the people who have been admitted to hospital will not come out again.

“Although the government is not to blame for coronavirus, we need a government which is responsive rather than one that delays action.”

Councillor Gul Nawaz Khan, representing the Dales ward of Nottingham, told HuffPost UK his constituents have felt frustrated and frightened at the high level of cases and many have been desperate to see measures in place.

Nottingham City Council
Councillor Gul Nawaz Khan

“The council was arguing with the government last week that we needed restrictions immediately but they were refusing. It is good they have finally happened, but it should have been done last week or the week before.

“The problem is Boris Johnson doesn’t listen to anyone and just does what he likes.

“I think we need tougher lockdown restrictions and should be on tier 3. People’s lives are more important than business and money.

“The people of Nottingham would endure the pain of a stricter lockdown if it meant everyone being safer.” 

I think we need tougher lockdown restrictions and should be on Tier 3. People’s lives are more important than business and money.Councillor Gul Nawaz Khan, Nottingham

Isobel Thrower, 56, a Nottingham resident, says before the new students arrived a few weeks ago there were no concerns about the city’s coronavirus cases.

She says it is clear the high number of coronavirus cases in Nottingham is due to the huge university population.

Like Mellen, though, she is angry at the government for encouraging them to return to uni, rather than at the young people themselves.

We all made sacrifices during the national lockdown but because the government didn’t think through the consequences of people going to universities all over the country, all that hard work has been undone.Isobel Thrower who lives in Nottingham

“I think the students have had a raw deal,” she said. “They are sitting in their rooms isolating and having online lectures and having the finger of blame pointed at them and being made to be the scapegoats.

“I don’t blame the students for wanting to go to the pub. They are living in halls of residence with people they don’t know and are young people.

“But I am angry for me and the people of Nottingham and am also angry for the students.

“Thankfully, students are unlikely to get very ill or die from coronavirus. But other people are suffering the consequences as the cases have gone through the roof.

I can’t visit my grandchildren in London now with these new restrictions as I would only be allowed to meet them outside.

“I am furious at the government for encouraging students to go back to universities.

“I feel we all made sacrifices during the national lockdown but because the government didn’t think through the consequences of people going to universities all over the country, all that hard work has been undone.”

Dr Jenni Cauvain, a senior lecturer in sociology at Nottingham Trent University, told HuffPost UK poverty and inequalities lie at the heart of Nottingham’s high coronavirus rate.

She said Nottingham is frequently named the UK’s poorest city on a government list looking at the disposable income of households – and highlighted that it is usually a “race” between Nottingham and Leicester as to which comes bottom of the income scale.

Dr Jenni Cauvain
Jenni Cauvain, a senior lecturer in sociology at Nottingham Trent University

Cauvain said it is no coincidence that both these places have been hit hard by coronavirus. “Nottingham has one of the lowest incomes in the country and wages are lower than other comparable cities.” she said.

“There’s also a lot of child poverty and we have a higher than average Black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) population, which exacerbates health inequalities.

“Nottingham is hugely vulnerable to coronavirus.”

Cauvain says while hospital admission rates for Covid-19 might not be as high as some places at the moment, the fear is where they will be in a few weeks’ time. “Why are we always reacting to things after the event?” she asked. 

She also believes northern mayors are vocal about getting attention for their cities and that Nottingham suffers as it doesn’t have a similar champion.

“I think a lot of places including Nottingham have been left in limbo and let down by this government,” she said. “I believe they are too incompetent to handle this crisis.”

Dr Jamie Parker, a GP in Nottingham, told HuffPost UK his main bugbear is the length of time it took to announce restrictions for Nottingham. They were finally revealed on Monday, two days ahead of their coming into force, but there had been speculation in the national press following a briefing to The Times about a three-tier system nearly a week earlier.

“Delaying the formal announcement yet hinting or leaking that stricter measures were going to come into place before a weekend was irresponsible and dangerous,” he said. 

Dr Jamie Parker, a GP in Nottingham,

He fears Nottingham will pay the price in two or three weeks when hospital admissions rise and the death toll increases.

“With cases rising sharply, quick action is needed,” he said. “Hospital admissions tend to lag behind a rise in rates – it takes time to see the effect as more people become infected.

“Proportionally, more people become seriously unwell, but the delay between the two is a few weeks.

“The delay to fit in with the three-tier announcement will have cost lives.

“As we saw with the first lockdown, delay in action leads to worse outcomes. It is very sad we are in this situation again.”

Sonia Shah owns Indian fine dining restaurant Bombay Bridgford. She says her main aim has been making sure she, her staff and customers are safe, and they have enforced strict cleaning and social distancing measures.

Sonia Shah
Sonia Shah, owner of Indian fine dining restaurant Bombay Bridgford

She admitted the future has felt very uncertain and with rising infection rates she had many “sleepless nights feeling anxious”.

“I saw places shutting down left, right and centre and knew it was about remaining open and surviving,” she said.

“I think everyone is going to get coronavirus at some point. These restrictions are about slowing it down to avoid burdening the NHS.

“The tier 2 restrictions mean we are still allowed to trade, but only have customers who are from the same household.

“I have bookings for the rest of the week but I have to ring them to make sure they are all from the same household.”

She added: “The most important thing I have learnt during this crisis is that we have to be open to adapting as the situation is changing all the time.”

Alison Challenger, Nottingham’s interim director of public health, told HuffPost UK all age groups – not just young people – had seen a rise in case numbers, and called for a collective fight against the virus.

Nottingham City Council
Alison Challenger, director of public health in Nottingham

“We need to see a rapid reduction in cases as we don’t want to see our hospitals under pressure,” she said.

“The next few days and weeks will be critical for Nottingham to see if we can change the high rate of infection.”