Downing Street has denied the G7 summit is behind a rapid rise in Covid-19 cases in Cornwall, an increase that is raising significant concern about extra tourism pressures on the region in the summer weeks.
Recent seven-day case rates have risen rapidly for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, increasing from 4.9 per 100,000 people on 3 June to 130.6 per 100,000 people on 16 June.
Outbreaks among students, as well as the impact of people travelling to and from Cornwall during half term, are believed to have significantly contributed to the rise.
Rates are currently high in Ponsanooth, Mabe Burnthouse and Constantine, where the surge has been linked to an outbreak at the Penryn campus shared by Exeter and Falmouth universities.
Andrew George, the former Lib Dem MP for St Ives who is now a councillor in Cornwall, said the government must publish its risk assessment for the summit, a request he said had been denied.
“The correlation between G7 and the tsunami of Covid-19 caseload in St Ives/Carbis Bay and Falmouth is undeniable,” he told the Press Association.
“It ought to drive public bodies to at the very least maintain an open mind about the connection between the two. Those who were responsible for that decision and for the post-G7 summit Covid-19 case management and assessment should be held to account for their decisions and actions.”
On Monday, a spokesman for Boris Johnson denied a link between the event and the rise in cases.
“We are confident that there were no cases of transmission to the local residents. All attendees were tested, everyone involved in the G7 work were also tested during their work on the summit,” he said. “We always said, following the move to step three, that we will see cases rising across the country. That is what we’re seeing playing out.”
Concerns have been raised that those indirectly linked to the G7 summit could be associated with the rise, with police, hospitality venues, and a protest camp in St Ives all reporting cases of the virus.
Rowland Kao, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh who contributes to the Spi-M modelling subgroup of Sage, said Cornwall is not an outlier for vaccination uptake or levels of the Delta variant, suggesting other factors are behind the rise in rates.
These, he said, may include low rates of infection in previous waves – meaning those not yet vaccinated are also unlikely to have natural protection – as well as seasonal working patterns and increased mixing among locals working.
“Of course any risks would have been exacerbated by the large numbers of people arriving in Cornwall both for the G7 summit and for recreational purposes, increasing both crowding and contact,” he said.
Dr Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health at Southampton University, also said a mix of factors was probably in play.
“Whilst the arrival of the G7 attendees may have had some impact upon the numbers we are now seeing [in Cornwall], cases are predominantly in 15-24 year olds. These populations will mostly be unvaccinated, and there may well have been a fair amount of travelling to tourist sites over the recent half-term week,” he said.
The increase in Cornish cases is likely to raise questions about the prospects for other holiday hotspots in the UK with the public now being advised to avoid international travel.
Officials believe that a vaccination drive, particularly targeting younger adults, before the school holidays is now possible with the four-week delay to the final easing of lockdown restrictions.
“The overall expectation is that mixing in schools – and related contacts with parents and people working in the sector – will go down, conversely this also means that summer holiday locations like Cornwall can expect more,” said Kao.
“The net effect should be relatively positive – but holiday locations are more likely to [experience] higher levels of infection and therefore be at greater risk of more hospitalisations. And in that case, yes, vaccinations in those areas will definitely help.”
On Monday, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, confirmed people in England who have had both doses may soon no longer need to isolate should they be notified by the NHS Covid-19 app that they have come into close contact with someone infected with the virus.
Hancock said that a system was being trialled to let people avoid isolating who were fully inoculated but had been identified as a close contact of someone who had tested positive for Covid – so long as they took a lateral flow test every day.