Is the G7 summit really to blame for a 834% increase in COVID cases in Cornwall?

·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·4 min read
TOPSHOT - (L-R) Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, President of the European Council Charles Michel, US President Joe Biden, Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Italy's Prime minister Mario Draghi, France's President Emmanuel Macron, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel pose for the family photo at the start of the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall on June 11, 2021. - G7 leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the United States meet this weekend for the first time in nearly two years, for three-day talks in Carbis Bay, Cornwall. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP) (Photo by LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP via Getty Images)
World leaders, led by Boris Johnson, pose for a photo in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, at the G7 on Friday last week. (Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images)

Last week's G7 summit had a fair degree of controversy attached to it.

Not only was the flagship promise of a billion COVID-19 jabs to help vaccinate the world met with a lukewarm response in some quarters, but the UK government had to defend summit leaders against claims they flouted social distancing rules after pictures emerged showing dozens of attendees at a barbecue.

Now, some have said that the event itself could be responsible for sparking an outbreak of the virus that has seen cases in Cornwall rocket by 834%.

What's going on?

The summit, featuring world leaders including Boris Johnson and Joe Biden, took place in St Ives between Friday and Sunday last week, and would have required a huge logistical operation before and after.

Cornwall and Isles of Scilly, the local authority area, had extremely low case numbers before the summit. One week before, on 4 June, there were just seven infections.

For Monday and Tuesday this week, however, 127 infections have so far been recorded on each day.

Watch: G7 leaders meet Boris and Carrie Johnson at Carbis Bay

Furthermore, these figures are incomplete because of reporting delays, meaning those numbers are likely to increase over the next few days.

In terms of the latest available complete data, which is for the seven days up to 12 June, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly had 411 cases, up 834% from the previous seven days.

The St Ives and Halsetown area, where the summit took place, saw 44 cases in that seven-day period, a 2,100% increase.

Cornwall and Isles of Scilly still has a relatively low case rate when measured per 100,000 people. It is currently 71.9 per 100,000, compared to Blackburn with Darwen, the UK’s number one COVID hotspot, which has 577.2 per 100,000.

However, given the high transmissibility of the Delta variant of the virus, first identified in India and now the dominant strain in the UK, Cornwall’s case rate could further accelerate in the next few days.

'Unwelcome gift'

A potential link between the spike in cases and the event was raised by Robert Peston to his 1.1 million Twitter followers on Wednesday, saying the event had left the area an "unwelcome gift".

Some experts also linked the G7 event to the increase in cases.

Prof Stephen Reicher, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours that advises the government on its COVID response, highlighted the link, saying it "perfectly illustrates the need for a robust policy of border control".

Others aren't so sure. Dr Duncan Robertson, a coronavirus modeller, is among those to be more sceptical and said the increases "appear" to be linked to the G7.

“There will be both a lot more activity and a lot more testing due to the G7," he tweeted.

“Setting up the venue causes activity and mixing which can spread COVID. Many people will have come from outside Cornwall to help with G7.”

Dr Robertson added that even if organised events such as the G7 are “COVID secure”, travel to and from them – as well as socialising before and after – may not be.

In that sense, he pointed out, “the G7 has acted as an informal 'pilot’” for future events in the country.

However, he pointed out other factors, such as holidaymakers visiting Cornwall from other parts of the country during the recent half-term holiday, could also be behind the increasing case numbers.

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This was reflected by Dr Ruth Goldstein, a public health leader from Cornwall Council, who didn't mention the G7 when outlining her concern about the spike in infections. 

Dr Goldstein said there was an initial outbreak at a university campus, with this followed by increased mixing in hospitality venues as people visited Cornwall.

Dr Goldstein added people now need to “triple” their efforts to stop the growth in cases.

"We know we will have a lot of people coming into Cornwall, which we want and is fantastic for our businesses," she was quoted by the BBC as saying.

"But this situation we are in now, we all have to triple our efforts if we are going to stop this rise in cases."

Watch: Vaccine in numbers

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