At a time when citizens across the world are being encouraged to look out for each other and be kind during this time of need, it seems strange that countries are looking at each other and judging them on their response to the coronavirus.
Many appear to have been quick to criticize advanced countries – including America – for what they have seen as their poor response to covid-19 and the possibility that many more lives have been needlessly lost.
The UK has seen similar criticism to the U.S. with the general consensus being that the British government, and in particular Prime Minister Boris Johnson, failed to implement any strategies early enough, resulting in them having the highest numbers of recorded deaths from coronavirus in Europe.
At the time of writing, the UK has seen over 30,000 deaths out of more than 200,000 confirmed cases, and the numbers continue to grow. With the average mortality rate across England and Wales at 36.2 per every 100,00 people – increasing to 144.3 in the worst hit area of Newham in London – it seems that every town has been hit hard.
Compare that to Norwich. A mere 2 hours drive north east of London and you find yourself in a completely different set up. Norwich currently has the lowest rate of coronavirus deaths in England and Wales, with a rate of only 2.5.
Figures released by the Office of National Statistics show that Norwich had only 3 fatalities from the virus. While these figures are only up to April 17, local figures suggest the current number is still below 100.
With such low figures it makes many across the country wonder what Norwich is doing right to stem the spread of the virus.
Adam Gretton, spokesperson for the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust does not believe they have “found a magic bullet” and agrees that while the low numbers are a positive sign, staff at the hospital are not celebrating, saying, “but no-one here is jubilant… people are focused on the hard work ahead”.
The hospital has 36 beds in their intensive care unit while a further 60 were made available if required. Currently only four beds had coronavirus patients in them.
Professor Andy Jones, lead researcher at the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School, believes there are many different reasons the numbers are so low.
“I think largely it can be put down to pre-existing structural factors, rather than Norwich deviating too widely from the national approach.”
Norwich is famous for being the capital city of England’s ‘biggest cul-de-sac’ in East Anglia. It is a location that you would not visit unless you had to go there, and Jones believes this isolation is a key factor, “There’s a saying that no-one passes through Norwich. You really only go if you need to be there. In that way, there has been far fewer opportunities for the virus to arrive here.”
It has been noted that the virus appears to have higher casualties in poorer areas, such as Greater Manchester, and this could also be a reason. Norwich recently placed 61st on the list of most deprived areas in England in 2019, which although not the wealthiest place in the UK it certainly is not one of the poorest either.
Another factor is the number of underlying health conditions. Norwich currently has low numbers of cases of illnesses such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), due in part to the low levels of pollution in the rural areas surrounding the city, although some roads in Norwich has seen pollution levels higher than World Health Organization’s (WHO) current guidelines. Areas further north have higher levels of lung disease, which are contributing factors.
Jones continues, “If you have a population that is relatively affluent and relatively healthy – and I stress relatively – that population is starting from a strong position in terms of covid.”
It has been documented recently that covid-19 has affected members of the non-white population significantly more than the white population, and with Norwich having around 92.6 per cent of white residents – the average is 86 per cent – this also has been seen as a major factor.
“We know that non-white populations seem to be more significantly effected by Covid. To some extent that seems to be associated with socio-economic deprivation, but there may be some additional susceptibility over and above that which is not really understood at the moment.”
Another large factor has been the way the lockdown. has been observed. Whereas in America there have been scenes of protests at people’s freedom being ‘taken away’, Norwich has accepted the situation and continued to live their lives within the statutory guidelines.
Councillor Matthew Packer agrees his city’s residents have abided by the rules and says, “We absolutely cannot be complacent. What I am sure about, though, is that the city has worked as one team with residents, key workers, local authorities, partnership organisations, the police and businesses all coming together to help stop the spread and protect our excellent local NHS [National Health Service] – whose magnificent staff have worked tirelessly at the front line.”
However, despite all these great factors contributing to the low death count there is also a factor that some higher up in the UK’s government may wish to ignore.
March 23 saw the UK go into national lockdown; a mere week after Norwich had its first confirmed case of the disease. The continuing low figures throughout lockdown are positive however it highlights a glaringly worrying question, would starting lockdown earlier saved more lives, and if so, should the government be held accountable for what appears to be big mistakes at high levels.