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Oxford may face local controls after “unsettling” rise in COVID cases

Oxford could face local lockdown measures after a surge in coronavirus cases. Oxfordshire County Council said “measures that would slam the brakes on Oxford’s gradual emergence from lockdown have moved a step closer.”

There were 41 coronavirus cases in Oxford in the week ending 21 August. This amounts to 26.9 cases per 100,000 people. The average area in England had seven cases per 100,000 people, according to the BBC.

The Oxford NHS Foundation Trust says the city is now on amber alert and that the Public Health Surveillance Unit is “monitoring the situation very closely”. It adds: “If cases continue to rise, then local controls may be introduced.”

The Director of Public Health at Oxfordshire Country Council, Ansaf Azhar, called the increase “very unsettling” and encouraged young people to follow government guidance.

Azhar said: “We can see the number of people contracting COVID is increasing per 100,000 of the population on a day-by-day basis and it is very unsettling. Undoubtedly the 18-29 year age group is driving this rise in cases.  

“My appeal to everyone in Oxford – and 18 to 29 year olds in particular – is to remember what got us out of lockdown. Do we really want to end up with the kind of local control measures we have seen introduced in various parts of Lancashire, Yorkshire, Leicester and Aberdeen?”

He added: “At the minute it feels like we are moving in that direction. People need to be aware their behaviour is putting themselves and others at risk. If you’re aged 18 to 29 and catch COVID-19, you are absolutely not guaranteed to get away with the mildest symptoms. Even mild symptoms are a struggle, while longer-term symptoms can include chronic fatigue, muscle weakness and memory loss.

“Equally you may well pass this on to older or more vulnerable people. How would you feel if you knew that someone was in hospital in a ventilator with their life under threat because you’d passed COVID-19 on to them?”

The NHS Foundation Trust says that increased case numbers are due to people returning from holidays in Europe and lower levels of adherence to social distancing.

Despite the increase, Oxford is not yet on the government’s watchlist for areas of concern.

When a lockdown was announced in Leicester in June, there were 135 cases per 100,000 people, compared to Oxford’s current figure of 31. Oldham, Blackburn, and Pendle were placed under restrictions when cases reached between 70 and 90 per 100,000 people.

The University of Oxford has recently launched its dedicated COVID-19 testing service for members of staff.

“The service will benefit the local community by reducing the risk of a further COVID-19 outbreak and reducing the pressure on NHS testing facilities,” the University said in an email to students. It is initially open to staff only but students with symptoms will be able to access the service from September.

Oxford City Council said: “We are working closely with the County Council on getting the message out as widely as possible in the city, using our community and business networks to reach as many residents as we can alongside media and digital message.”

The Council’s measures include a social media campaign to promote mask wearing and an appeal for mask donations.

Oxfordshire County Council has been contacted for comment.

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