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Young people ‘fuelling rise in coronavirus cases’

Specialist team in place to advise universities on stopping Covid-19 spread as students return

11 September, 2020 — By Richard Osley

YOUNG people and returning holidaymakers are fuelling a rise in coronavirus cases in Westminster, a council meeting heard this week.

The borough is currently on the same rate of cases as London and the UK but has been higher than national averages at some stages in the past four weeks.

Russell Styles, the director of public health, told a council scrutiny committee on Tuesday evening: “Young people are making up the biggest burden in terms of the virus at the moment and the circulation of the virus, as well as those who are returning from holidays abroad. They are not mutually exclusive: lots of those are young people as well.”

He added: “We are using social media and other mechanisms to get the message across. There is a risk that with the communications, the public get fatigued by the messages so it’s positive that young people in the community are supporting us with this. I think it will make a big difference to mitigation and control.”

Two members of the committee asked whether there were concerns about the return of college and university students given the number of academic institutions in central London.

Conservative councillor Tim Mitchell, the city council’s health chief, said a “specialist team” was in place.

“Over the weekend, I was in contact with a university which was flagging concerns and I was able to hook them up with the team, because they hadn’t quite got their internal messaging right within the institution,” he said.

“It’s obviously a concern with returning students, particularly those who are coming from overseas. Hopefully the universities have put in place adequate quarantine arrangements for those students.”

Cllr Mitchell added: “It’s very important advice is taken on board by students over gatherings, etcetera etcetera, so we do not get an increase in infections as a result.”

Overall, 132 people from Westminster have died since the coronavirus outbreak began in March.

In the recent rise in cases – increases have been charted across the country – the borough’s health chiefs have not yet noticed greater numbers needing intensive care services.

Cllr Mitchell said: “There hasn’t been an uptick in hospital admissions over the last 14 days. Only one Westminster resident has been admitted to hospital who has tested positive for Covid-19. So far we haven’t seen an increase in the severity of cases.”

Health experts believe this could be because younger people are less likely to have serious complications with the virus.

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