The spread of swine flu in Birmingham has been more severe because of the high number of close-knit families in the city, the Health Secretary has said.
Andy Burnham said that greater contact amongst families, often in the Asian community, could be one reason why the virus spread so rapidly.
He warned that cases could reach more than 100,000 per day nationally, as another 158 victims were diagnosed in the region on Thursday.
Birmingham Council’s Health Scrutiny Committee, chaired by Coun Deidre Alden (Lab Edgbaston), has begun an inquiry into the way the city’s agencies have dealt with the pandemic.
She said: “Swine flu may return in the autumn so we want to see if there are lessons to be learned before that.”
A nationwide vaccination programme will begin next month, but the West Midlands will not be prioritised despite having by far the highest number of cases.
There have now been 2,582 diagnosed cases in the region, out of 7,447 across the country as a whole.
The Department of Health hopes to have around 60 million vaccination doses available by the end of the year, enough to treat 30 million people.
But Sir Liam Donaldson, the Government’s Chief Medical Officer, said it was unlikely any part of the country would be given priority. He said: “I think it would be more likely that the early vaccine would go to established risk groups, particularly people with underlying disease or who are on cancer therapy, whose immune system might be compromised.
“There’s also the needs of health and social care workers who will be treating sick patents and will be exposed to the virus.
“If you were going to allocate the vaccine geographically I think that would be very difficult. It’s obviously one of the options that could be looked at.”
On explaining why Birmingham has become a hotspot for the virus, Mr Burnham said: “I visited Birmingham just over a fortnight ago and I think it is not easy to say there was any one reason, but there was a suggestion that because of the social profile of the area where lots of families are intergenerationally more in contact, and there is more social contact on a day to day basis, amongst particularly the Asian community, that perhaps had contributed.”
More than half of all cases across the UK have been in the West Midlands or London, where around 1,800 cases have been diagnosed.
In a statement to the House of Commons, Mr Burnham said efforts to contain the disease would be abandoned and the focus instead would be on treating the victims.
He said: “Scientists now expect to see rapid rises in the number of cases.
“Cases are doubling every week, and on this trend we could see more than 100,000 cases per day by the end of August - although I stress that that is only a projection.
“As cases continue to rise, we have reached the next step in our management of the disease. Our national focus should be on treating the increasing numbers affected by swine flu.”
He added: “There are now on average several hundred new cases every day. Our efforts during the containment phase have given us precious time to learn more about the virus.
“We have always known it would be impossible to contain the virus indefinitely and at some point we would need to move away from containment to treatment.”
London and the West Midlands have already had sufficiently high numbers to move towards a policy of outbreak management, which saw people with swine flu clinically diagnosed rather than being confirmed by laboratory reports.