Image description: an amber alert symbol in front of the Radcliffe Camera
With students set to return in just over a month, the city of Oxford has been placed on ‘amber alert’, following a spike in coronavirus cases thought to be driven by 18 to 29-year-olds.
Cases in the city centre reached a weekly rate of 26.9 per 100,000 in the week up to 21st August, passing the government threshold for an amber alert. Oxford city centre reached 997 cases by the 25th of August, with a weekly rate more than 14% higher than it is in other districts of the county. There were 86 new cases across Oxfordshire in the seven days to 21st August, up from 65 new cases the previous week.
Oxfordshire City Council explains that the amber alert suggests that the city is ‘heading in the same direction’ as other areas in the UK which have been placed back in local lockdowns. Many students received a text from their GP surgery on 26th August, warning them that the number of cases was rising in the area. Beaumont Street Surgery warned students that “the number of coronavirus cases in Oxford is rising, particularly among 20 to 30-year-olds… if you have coronavirus symptoms you must self isolate immediately and call 119 to book a test.” The surgery also reminded those that had traveled abroad to countries on the government watch-list that they must isolate for 14 days upon returning to the UK.
The Oxford Health announcement highlighted that many of the new cases were in the 18-29 age category, attributing the rise “to people returning from holidays in Europe, where cases of the virus are rising, and partly to lower levels of adherence to social distancing.”
Many officials have emphasised the role of young people in causing the spike in cases. The Lord Mayor of Oxford, Councillor Craig Simmons, told The Oxford Student that: “Oxford is on amber alert because the number of new cases has exceeded the Government’s watch list threshold.” He advises that the best way to avoid harsher control measures would be to “follow the now-familiar guidance to socially distance, wash our hands more frequently and wear a face covering when in public places.”
He continues: “Young people in the 19 to 30 age group have been particularly affected during this outbreak. Those affected should follow advice to self-isolate and report their symptoms. Without concerted action, we will end up with a tightening of control measures in Oxford. This is something no one wants.”
The County Council’s Director for Public Health, Ansaf Azhar, echoed the Mayor’s message that, heading into the bank holiday weekend, students and young people needed to be more careful in order to control this potential outbreak.
“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?”
Measures being taken to reduce the rate of infection include the introduction of a mobile testing unit. The unit, which from the 28th-30th August will be located behind the Cowley Road Tesco, will be open from 10:30-4:30 daily. Appointments can be made online or by calling 119.
It is not yet clear how a potential reintroduction of control measures will affect students, especially as international students are set to return in the next few weeks. However, the reorganised Varsity matches for tennis and cricket are currently unaffected, and are set to go ahead next week.
Image credit: Madeleine Ross