"Wake up": call for fresh Covid caution in Lancashire as cases leap by 20 percent in a week
Lancashire’s public health boss has called on the county to “wake up” and take the basic precautions needed to help stem a steep rise in Covid cases.
Dr. Sakthi Karunanithi made the appeal as the latest figures show that cases across the county’s 14 council areas increased by an average of 20 percent in the space of a week, according to analysis of government data by the Local Democracy Reporting Service.
The biggest leaps came in South Ribble and Preston, which both registered a rise in cases of just over 40 percent during the week to 15th October compared to the seven-day rolling figure a week earlier.
Wyre had the highest overall case rates in the county in that timeframe, followed by Chorley and South Ribble.
Across Central Lancashire, case rates have been rising equally rapidly amongst both the under and over-60s since the first week of this month.
Lancashire as a whole recorded 7,157 positive tests in the seven days to 15th October, the latest date for which validated statistics are available.
In the majority of districts Lancashire-wide, case rates were highest in the 10-14-year-old age group, exceeding 2,000 per 100,000 of that section of the population in four places - Chorley, South Ribble, Ribble Valley and Wyre. They stood over at 1,000 in all other council areas except Blackburn with Darwen and Burnley.
In the 15-19-year-old bracket, case rates were over 1,000 per 100,000 in three districts - South Ribble, Chorley and Fylde.
The Lancashire County Council and Blackpool Council areas both exceeded the England case rate average of 447.9 in the week to 15th October, at 486.2 and 535.5 respectively.
Against that backdrop Dr. Karunanithi urged residents with an outstanding invite for a booster vaccine - or even a first or second jab - to take it up as soon as possible.
However, the county council's director of public health warned that jabs alone would not be sufficient preparation for what he predicted will be a “difficult winter” ahead.
He was speaking just before the health secretary, Sajid Javid, announced at a Downing Street press conference on Wednesday afternoon that the government would not yet be enacting its “plan B” for tackling the pandemic, in spite of warning that Covid cases nationally could hit 100,000 per day.
Plan B would see the introduction of vaccine passports for entry to certain settings, the reintroduction of mandatory mask wearing in others and a return to the recommendation for people to work from home where possible.
However, Mr. Javid did reveal that the government had done a deal to purchase 480,000 courses of a drug being trialled at the Royal Preston Hospital, which it is hoped could become the first oral antiviral treatment for Covid.
The hospital is still seeking volunteers who have very recently been diagnosed with the virus to test the tablet “molnupiravir” as part of a nationwide study into the drug’s effectiveness.
Dr. Dennis Hadjiyiannakis, medical director for the Lancashire Clinical Research Facility, held out the prospect earlier this month that it could be the route back to “normal life” after the pandemic. It will require regulatory approval before it can be prescribed, but Mr. Javid said if and when that was received, the NHS would be able to deploy it to the “priority groups...that are most at risk”, including the immunosuppressed.
In the meantime, however, Dr. Karunanithi said that while it was understandable that people would be keen to “get back to normality” after so long living with Covid, there was a need for caution as case rates continue to rise.
"Unfortunately, in Lancashire we currently have very high levels of infection across all of our districts – and it is increasing. This has mainly been in our younger population, causing further disruption to education - but now we are seeing this increase in our 60+ population.
"The NHS is reporting an increase in Covid-19 cases, with hospitals also having to manage a plethora of other issues as it approaches the difficult winter period.
"All of this paints a worrying picture, and it is critical that we approach the coming weeks and months with caution.
"Getting vaccinated is still the best thing people can do to protect themselves, and I strongly encourage anyone who is eligible for a first, second or booster vaccination to get it without delay.
"Vaccinations alone are not enough at this current moment, however, which is why every one of us needs to take personal responsibility by following the national Covid-19 advice.
"That means regular hand washing, wearing face masks in enclosed spaces where you come into contact with people you don’t usually meet and continuing to test regularly. It also means doing the right thing and self-isolating when you test positive for Covid-19.
"It is vitally important that we wake up and take this collective action now – or risk the current situation spiralling out of control," Dr. Karunanithi added.
Mr. Javid told the press conference that booster jabs “could not be more important”.
On Thursday, it was revealed that 150,000 people across Lancashire and South Cumbria have so far had a booster and health bosses believe that the majority of those eligible in the region will have received an invite by the end of the year.
Nationally, just over four million of around nine million people currently eligible to have one - the over 50s, clinically vulnerable, frontline health and social care staff and over-16s who are either caring for someone at high risk from Covid or living with someone who is vulnerable to infections - have received the top-up jab.
Six months must have elapsed since an individual's second vaccine before they can be given a booster.
Jane Scattergood, senior responsible officer for the Lancashire and South Cumbria Vaccination Programme, said: “Demand for the booster has been extremely high, and as soon as eligible people are getting their booster invites they are finding a venue handy for them and booking straight in.
“It means we’re getting through thousands of boosters a day. And coupled with the annual flu vaccination programme in full swing and first and second Covid-19 doses, that’s a lot of jabs.
“With Covid-19 still spreading in our communities, and other winter bugs including flu beginning to circulate, we are making sure that our most vulnerable citizens are protected,” Ms. Scattergood added.
Invites are being sent out to those due a booster, although the health secretary said that people in an eligible category who have not been contacted six months after their second vaccine should come forward.
To book a booster, available at a range of sites across the county, Lancashire residents should visit nhs.uk/book-covid-booster or phone 119.
Meanwhile, across England, just 15 percent of 12-15-year-olds have so far received the single jab that they began to be offered last month.
LANCASHIRE'S COVID CASES AND RATES
In the week to 15th October, this is how many Covid cases were identified per council area, followed, in brackets, by the case rate per 100,000 people and the percentage change in that measure compared to the previous rolling seven-day period.
BLACKBURN WITH DARWEN - 410 (299.9, up 12.2 percent)
BLACKPOOL - 741 (535.5, up 18.4 percent)
BURNLEY - 293 (327.9, up 8.5 percent)
CHORLEY - 777 (653.7, up 19.4 percent)
FYLDE - 375 (461.8, up 30.7 percent)
HYNDBURN - 318 (391.9, up 12.8 percent)
LANCASTER - 576 (388.9, up 3.2 percent)
PENDLE - 339 (367.9, up 13.4 percent)
PRESTON - 638 (442.6, up 40.5 percent)
RIBBLE VALLEY - 335 (540.1, up 6.0 percent)
ROSSENDALE - 328 (459.2, up 12.7 percent)
SOUTH RIBBLE - 631 (568.0, up 41.5 percent)
WEST LANCASHIRE - 545 (476.0, up 25.3 percent)
WYRE - 811 (717.3, up 38.2 percent)