By Tony Earnshaw LDRS
Falling infection rates and the success of mass testing in Liverpool have given political leaders in Kirklees a cautious sense of optimism – even as the borough prepares to enter strengthened Tier 3 Covid restrictions next week.
There is now a growing sense that the combination of testing, an adherence to guidelines around social distancing and the imminent roll-out of a vaccine could change the local landscape considerably.
Kirklees Council Leader Shabir Pandor said caution and vigilance would prevent the district slipping into a third wave of Covid.
Clr Pandor said he anticipated that a mass roll-out of vaccinations would happen “very, very quickly” and that the same logistical framework could be used to deliver mass testing on a local level.
He said he hoped that a mass testing decision for Kirklees would be made “very quickly” and indicated that a local test and trace system was to be launched “imminently”.
Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service Clr Pandor said: “Our infection figures have gone down by 20%. That is encouraging.
“If they carry on going down to Liverpool levels then we could come out of Tier 3 pretty quickly.
“Obviously we don’t want to have a third wave because that puts us back even further. So we need to be cautious and vigilant.
“It’s all dependent on how we manage infection, hospital admissions, and deaths. Those are our indicators.
“But there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
In an address to the House of Commons Health Secretary Matt Hancock praised the success of mass testing in Liverpool, which had seen the city’s infection rates decrease to the extent that it was placed in Tier 2 rather than Tier 3.
Colne Valley MP Jason McCartney pledged to ask Mr Hancock what criteria will be used when Kirklees’ tier is reviewed on December 16.
He said: “Will local MPs and council leaders be consulted, what extra financial support will there be for hospitality, and will the government work with Kirklees on delivering a mass testing programme here?”
Dewsbury MP Mark Eastwood said Tier 3 local authorities such as Kirklees would be able to take part in a six-week “testing surge” with tests offered to the general population to pinpoint cases before the virus can spread.
He added: “This boost to testing capacity and the promising news of vaccine candidates will hopefully diminish the need for restrictions in the early new year.”
Batley and Spen MP Tracy Brabin supported the all-party request from the council to be part of the pilot scheme for mass testing.
And she called on backdated support from the government for hospitality venues, which will have to remain closed except for takeaway, delivery or drive-through sales.
She added: “Infection rates are falling across the region as a result of the current circuit breaker lockdown. People across West Yorkshire will want to know that the government is following the science and that their sacrifices in following these restrictions will not be for nothing.”
Leader of the Liberal Democrats on Kirklees Council, Clr John Lawson, said government needed to “really pull out all the stops” if it wanted residents and businesses to continue to make sacrifices.
He said: “They need to meet us halfway and provide mass testing so we can make the big breakthrough and get a grip on this as we go into winter proper.”
Green group leader Clr Andrew Cooper said the Liverpool example showed that local controls could succeed.
“Government has got to let go of it and let local decision-makers take a lead on testing.
“The vaccine could be months away but we are beginning to see rates come down. However they are only coming down due to people following the basic rules.
“If people exercise some self-restraint over Christmas we can try and keep the infection rate down.”
Clr Charles Greaves, leader of the Holme Valley Independents, said he hoped the government would agree to roll out mass testing in Kirklees.