North of England has had highest proportion of Covid-19 deaths since national lockdown eased

  • Video report by Tom Sheldrick

A greater proportion of people have died from coronavirus in the North of England after the national lockdown began to be eased than in other parts of England and Wales.Analysis of official figures by ITV News shows nearly a quarter of deaths in the North involving Covid-19 have been registered after 15 May, compared to less than 10% in London.

1,320 deaths involving Covid-19 were registered in the North of England in the week when restrictions were first lifted.

The UK government first eased lockdown in England on 13 May, allowing people to spend more time and meet a friend outside, allowing garden centres to reopen, and encouraging those who couldn't work from home to return to their workplaces.

Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said: "I do believe that lockdown was lifted too early for the North of England. I said so at the time and these figures would seem to bear it out. It felt the position had changed in London, but actually the virus had spread up the country."

There's been a London-centric approach to this crisis all along. The situation that we're dealing with today in the North of England where there are a higher number of cases than other parts of the country suggests to me that that is a legacy of lockdown being lifted too soon.

Andy Burnham, Greater Manchester Mayor

In a poll for ITV News, 58% of those spoken to in northern England said they felt the national lockdown was lifted too early, compared to just 13% who said it was too late.

33% said they thought there would have been fewer deaths if the Covid-19 pandemic had been handled on a more regional basis.

17% said they felt that approach would have resulted in a higher number of deaths.

The government has insisted its approach has been targeted at specific areas. In a statement, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said:

“Throughout the pandemic we have taken the right steps at the right time, guided by the latest evidence. Moving from a national to local approach to lockdowns has been crucial to beginning to safely reopen society and the economy.

We remain prepared to take swift and targeted action, working hand in hand with local areas to stop the spread of the virus – wherever it emerges – whilst supporting the nation to remain vigilant as we gradually ease lockdown measures.

Thanks to the huge efforts of local communities and authorities, working alongside our effective Test and Trace system, we are already seeing the benefits of this approach."

As part of their 'levelling up' agenda, ministers have also pledged to tackle health inequalities.

The government says it's working to better understand disparities in the risk that Covid-19 has posed to different people. There have been higher death rates in deprived areas, among BAME communities and those with pre-existing health conditions.

Tommy Jardine's family said he was a "fabulous" man who was "loved by everybody." Credit: Family photo

Tommy Jardine from Newcastle died on 17 April, his 75th birthday.His cause of death was recorded as Covid-19, with contributing conditions including COPD, type 2 diabetes, and chronic kidney disease.

His family say he was overweight. He smoked when he was younger, but gave up 20 years ago.

Tommy had been advised to shield, and they say he did stay at home. It's not known how he caught the virus.

Tommy's death certificate detailed his underlying conditions. Credit: Family photo

His wife Ona Jardine said: "He was frightened of it. I think he knew that the writing was on the wall because of his health conditions, and this was a battle he was going to have to face. He just didn't have the strength in the end."

His son Stephen Jardine said: "He maybe would have changed health-wise a little bit to prolong his life to be there for my mum, but you don't know that do you?"

Analysis by ITV Tyne Tees Political Correspondent Tom Sheldrick:

The government easing lockdown restrictions when they did may have made things worse in parts of the North of England, although that's not something we can prove. Questions about whether ministers took a London-centric approach and didn't respect the needs of different regions certainly don't bode well, when it comes to considering their pledges to 'level up' the country.

While those pledges are mainly thought of in economic terms, levelling up our health may just be their toughest and most important task.Covid-19 of course has not been a leveller, even if we have all been at risk. The virus has picked upon the poor and the weak in particular.

Above, we've told the story of Tommy Jardine, just one among thousands to die in recent months. He was a normal man - a retired council gardener, who had a weakness for sweets, and didn't look after himself as well as he should have done. But the same applies to so many of us.

Leading expert Professor Sir Michael Marmot wrote in a major report in February: "blaming individual health behaviours, or gaps in NHS provision, is largely a distraction... The poor health of those lower down the social hierarchy results from the restricted range of options available to those on low incomes, as well as the direct health impacts associated with the stresses and poor conditions which result from poverty."

This shows how inter-connected everything is. It's difficult to see the link immediately, but perhaps building roads and railway lines really can, slowly, help close the enormous differences in life expectancy we see between different regions and communities, if they bring about more and better jobs.

Prof Marmot's report came before the pandemic really hit us. Since then, Covid-19 has tragically played upon existing health inequalities - but also now perhaps made them impossible to ignore any longer.

Savanta ComRes interviewed 2,020 UK adults who live in the ITV regions of Granada, Tyne Tees, Yorkshire and Central, aged 18+ online between 21 and 28 August. Data has been weighted to be representative of those regions combined by age, gender, and region.

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