The North of England is bearing the brunt of Britain's second coronavirus wave because it didn't squash its first outbreak, the deputy chief medical officer has admitted.
Official data shows two thirds of UK hospitalisations from Covid-19 are in Yorkshire, the North East and North West, where swathes are expected to be hit with harsher Covid-19 rules as part of Boris Johnson's new three-tier lockdown system.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam warned today the virus had 'clearly picked up pace' in the north 'earlier than it did in the first wave'.
He said this was 'almost certainly' because levels of the virus in the these parts 'never dropped as far as they dropped in the summer as they did in the South'.
For example, figures show that on 'super Saturday' on July 4 - when pubs, restaurants and hairdressers were allowed to reopen after months of lockdown - cases in the North West was 72 per 100,000 people compared with 29 cases in the South East.
Numbers in the North West did dip further, dropping as low as 54 on July 12 before starting to drift upwards from late July onwards, but the figures still did not plummet to the low of 21 seen in the South East on August 2.
Professor Van-Tam's admission that the North's epidemic was never squashed fully raises questions about whether ministers were too gung ho about relaxing lockdown measures.
Experts have blamed the North of England's rapidly rising coronavirus cases and hospital admissions on a number of factors unique to the region that have made it susceptible to a surge in the virus.
The North of England is bearing the brunt of Britain's second coronavirus wave. A rise in infections among young people has now spilled over into older demographics
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England's deputy chief medical officer, said the crisis has migrated north because the North of England didn't squash its first outbreak properly
Dr Simon Clarke, a microbiologist at the University of Reading, said the the return of students to areas in the North – there are at least 60,000 students in the North East alone, as well as multiple universities in Liverpool and Manchester – could be driving up cases.
But while students may be fuelling the fire of local outbreaks, the normally resident populations also face higher risks of local outbreaks because of their living conditions, according to scientists.
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham tweeted after the press conference: 'I am grateful to the deputy chief medical officer for recognising this point.
'Too many rush to blame the public in the North without understanding this.'
The Prime Minister's official spokesman, asked about Prof Van-Tam's comments at a Westminster briefing, said: 'We were guided by the scientific and medical advice at the time as to when we could begin to ease the local lockdown restrictions.
'You will remember that was done in a very gradual and cautious way, and also the Prime Minister was clear at the time that it may well be possible that we would have to put on the brakes and reimpose some measures if you did see the infection rate starting to rise again.
'I think what you can see across Europe is the second wave of this virus and that is why we have been taking action in recent days and weeks to help to limit its spread.'
It comes as the Government prepares to announce sweeping new controls in an attempt to stem the surge of infections, with Boris Johnson due to set out his his three-tier strategy in a Commons statement.
Parts of the North of England are bracing themselves for the most stringent Tier 3 controls, with Merseyside expected to have its pubs, gyms and casinos closed in a bid to suppress its infection rate.
Boris Johnson today plunged millions of people deeper into coronavirus lockdown as he delivered a grim warning that he country is teetering on the brink again.
Unveiling his new 'Three Tier' system to MPs, the PM declared that the highest restrictions will mean pubs being shut and households banned from mixing altogether.
But insisting he had no choice but to act, Mr Johnson said he could not 'let the virus rip'. 'Deaths are already rising,' he said.
From Wednesday at 5pm, locals will only be allowed out of their areas for essential travel such as for work, education or health, and must return before the end of the day - although there are complaints the rules will only be guidance rather than legally enforced.
Restaurants will be allowed to open, but only until 10.30pm. Where businesses are forced to shut, the Government will pay two thirds of each employee's salary, up to a maximum of £2,100 a month. There is expected to be a £28million package to help parts of the country classed as Tier Three.
'Retail, schools and universities will remain open,' Mr Johnson said.
Liverpool is the highest profile area in the top bracket.
However, another swathe of the country faces being thrown into the Tier Two bracket, meaning bars can stay open but households cannot mix indoors.
That includes Manchester, which was saved from the highest curbs after frantic lobbying from mayor Andy Burnham and local MPs, as well as the North East, Birmingham and Leicester.
London is not expected to be in Tier Two immediately, with Sadiq Khan and borough leaders due to have a conference call later.
A source said Tier 2 was on the cards soon. 'We are preparing for more measures in the very near future,' the source said.sonos sonos One (Gen 2) - Voice Controlled Smart Speaker with Amazon Alexa Built-in - Black read more
Mr Johnson told MPs: 'The number of cases has quadrupled in the last three weeks, there are now more people in hospital with Covid than when we went into lockdown on March 23 and deaths are already rising.'
It comes after the government top advisers were sent out to 'roll the pitch' be setting out their grim assessment of the situation.
Deputy chief medical