On Saturday 3 July 2021 Gavin Havery, Senior Report for The Northern Echo, reported that civic leaders in Durham are suggesting that the soaring infection rate in Durham may be linked to the city's student areas, with fears that the Delta variant of the virus is being passed into the wider community.

Covid infection rates among Durham students have ‘rocketed’

Concerns have been raised after shocking figures revealed the rise in infection rates in part of the North-East was significantly higher than the rest of the county.

The Covid case rates in Durham suggest one in 50 people in the city centre has tested positive in the last week.

Civic leaders suggest it could be a result of the densely populated student areas, and there are fears the rapidly transmissible Delta variant is being passed into the wider community.

Earlier this week the Northern Echo reported how ‘unprecedented’ levels of coronavirus was forcing schools to close and still making people ill.

Durham County and City of Durham Parish Councillor Richard Ormerod said: “It is worrying. I am pretty sure it is mainly students.

“There has been so much mingling of household towards the end of the term.

“The term seems to have been extended purely for students to socialise.

“I don’t think it is too much to ask students to forego some of the partying.

“There is a lot of virus around and some of it will have spread to people who are not leaving.

“Given the stats, I think Durham needs to be looked at as a special case out on its own.”

On Thursday it emerged the North East has overtaken the North West to become the region recording the highest rate of Covid-19 cases, with figures nearing those seen at the peak of the second wave of the virus.

Durham city has seen the region’s highest rise in infection rates with cases rocketing in the past week to 310.

The Covid infection rate in Durham city in the seven days to June 27 was 2,128.1 cases per 100k population, far higher than nearby university cities, such as North Jesmond, Newcastle, which was around 1,516.3 and Headingly in Leeds, which was 1197.6.

Durham City MP Mary Foy said: “It might be an issue if it spreads into the general population and the local community so they are doing all they can to prevent that.

"But there will be a lot of young people who are just not going to self-isolate.

“It is not good. The university are doing everything they can to bring those figures down and the students should be going home this weekend so we should see it fall.”

The total number of cases in County Durham in the past week was 2,081, up by 986 cases, a 90 per cent rise, on the week before.

By comparison, the North East has a case rate is 315.8 per 100,000 population and England’s case rate is 160.2 cases per 100,000 population.

Consett in County Durham has seen the region’s highest number of new cases in the past week with 95 in one week, up by 68 from the week before.

Gill O’Neill, Deputy Director of Public Health for County Durham, said: “We are aware of the high Covid infection rates in Durham City and taking proactive action with other agencies including Public Health England and NHS County Durham Clinical Commissioning Group to address these.

“Our agencies have increased access to Covid vaccines and PRC testing in the city through a series of pop-up vaccination sessions and mobile testing units at central locations, all of which have been extremely well attended.

“We are also providing extra Lateral Flow Device testing kits which people can access at pharmacies and council venues and use at home.

“We ask everyone in the city to play your part also by getting both doses of a vaccine as soon as you can; following the Hand, Face, Space, Fresh Air guidance; socialising outdoors wherever possible and, if you have symptoms, self-isolating and booking a test.

“The vast majority of cases we are seeing are the Delta variant which is so much more transmissible and with every transmission there is a risk of new more serious variants emerging that may respond differently to vaccines.

“It is therefore vital that we all take these simple steps to reduce transmission.”

Earlier this week St Cuthbert’s Summer Ball, part of Durham University, was cancelled hours before it was due to start.

It was due to be held at Hardwick Hall, Sedgefield, on Tuesday evening, but the decision was made by Durham University, in consultation with Durham County Council Public Health and County Durham Safety Advisory Group.

Jeremy Cook, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Colleges and Student Experience) of Durham University, said the health, safety and wellbeing of students, staff and the wider community was always the first priority.

He said: “We continue our ongoing dialogue with our local community, including through our dedicated community forum, to understand concerns and to take reasonable and proportionate steps to mitigate consequences.

“In line with the government roadmap, through Easter Term we delivered a set of carefully planned, in-person and online Wider Student Experience activities, including arts and cultural events, volunteering activities, sporting awards, and some social events. A key driver was to provide Covid-secure events and opportunities for our students to conduct their extra-curricular activities in well-managed spaces away from city centre venues.

“All events were carried out in line with UK Government guidance and following advice from County Durham Safety Advisory Group and Durham County Council Public Health.

“We kept our events programme under rigorous review throughout term, and we either cancelled or reduced the scale of many events in response to national and local conditions.

“To access nearly all in-person wider student experience activities, students were required to test twice weekly and provide proof of these negatives test results to attend events.

“We have been conducting 2,500 Lateral Flow Tests a day since early June and this has allowed us to understand our infection levels and react quickly to early signs of outbreaks.

“We continue to work closely with Durham County Council and Public Health England to manage Covid-19 cases within our community.

“Those affected are following NHS advice and self-isolating, they are receiving our full support.

“We strongly encourage all members of our community to continue to follow national and local guidance to help protect themselves and each other and to book their Covid-19 vaccinations as soon as possible."

Covid infection rates among Durham students have ‘rocketed’ | The Northern Echo