Despite generally falling rates of Coronavirus across Yorkshire and the North East there are concerns we are not quite out of the woods yet. Boris Johnson has said he intends to stick “like glue” to his plan for easing restrictions despite scientific advisers warning it could create a wave of Covid infections akin to that seen during spring last year.
Scientists have expressed concern that the NHS test and trace system to help stop the spread of COVID-19 is yet to be proven to be working effectively, and the reproduction rate of the virus is still only just below one.
This “R” number is the measure of how many people will be infected for every one person who has the disease. Experts say that small changes can put that reproduction number up above one, especially given there are still a lot of cases in some communities.
The warnings have come as Britain moves to Step Two of the roadmap out of the Covid-19 lockdown, with non-essential shops will reopening and social distancing rules being eased.
Data for the seven days ending the 13th April shows that whilst in much of the region the trend is downwards there are still three areas in the north with increasing infection rates. Kirklees saw an increase of 14% over the seven-day period, Bradford 8% and Middlesbrough 6%.
The data has been taken from an interactive map produced by Public Health England. Although there are areas where rates are rising, many neighbourhoods across the region are totally supressing the virus. Darlington saw a 42% drop in cases and Leeds saw a 28% reduction in infections.
Concerns have been raised that these figures could quite easily go up with the easing of lockdown and we start to drop our guard and return to a more normal life.
Middlesbrough Council’s Covid-19 Response Team visited shops and hospitality venues on Monday (April 12) the day the new rules came into effect to provide advice and guidance to protect both customers and staff.
Inspectors found lockdown rule breaches including poorly managed queues, groups of more than six people, tables too close together, customers indoors without face coverings and business failing to collect customer contact details using the NHS Test and Trace QR code or manual recording.
Middlesbrough Council’s Head of Public Protection, Judith Hedgley said: “The re-opening of all shops, services and the hospitality sector has led to a significant increase in the number of people visiting the town and we have witnessed large queues at a number of businesses.
“The vast majority of outlets have been managing customer numbers effectively and are adhering to the current rules which are there to prevent the spread of coronavirus”.
Elsewhere in the North East concerns have also been raised. Darlington has the third lowest rate of Covid-19 in the region there are fears that a ‘significant number of residents are not self-isolating’. A meeting of Darlington Borough Council’s health and housing scrutiny committee, the borough’s director of public health Penny Spring said: “Self-isolation is one of the biggest challenges we have at the moment”.
In offering a note of caution with the easing of lockdown Ms Penny said: “We are doing really well with our testing rates, but as things open up we could see infection rates go up”.
Professor Mahendra Patel, an honorary visiting professor at the University of Bradford, and member on both local and national pharmacy boards, said people have been “hemmed in for 12 months” and now they are able to go out and about “they become slightly forgetful the virus is still out there and the more we move around the more the virus spreads”.
The latest figures released by PHE showed that Bradford had the worst infection rate for Covid 19 in the country, for the week ending 11th April. The data showed that with a rate of 92.4 infections per 100,000 people in the seven days to April 11, Covid-19 is spreading more in Bradford than in any other part of the UK.
A Bradford City Council spokesperson said: “We have striven to increase the vaccine take up by challenging misinformation, correcting this through health specialists from different backgrounds alongside providing accessible information in community languages, different formats, door knocking and via social media platforms. We have organised pop-up vaccination sites at mosques and community centres with separate areas for male and females to receive vaccination”.
In the race against faster-spreading variants of the virus, government ministers have pinned their hopes on the further easing of the third national lockdown on vaccinating as many adults as possible by the summer. Their aim is to have vaccinated the total UK adult population by the end of July.
People will be vaccinated in age order until all those over 20 have had a first dose. Over 45’s are now being asked to book their Covid-19 vaccine appointment along with anyone over the age of 16 who has an underlying medical condition.
A further development has been the announcement that all pregnant women in Britain are to be offered either the Pfizer or Moderna jab. In the apparent U-turn, the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), has said pregnant women who have previously been advised not to have the vaccine because of lack of data will now be able to have it an any stage.
Prof Wei Shen Lim of the JVCI said: “Women should discuss the risks and benefits with their clinician, and those at increased risk should take up the offer of vaccination promptly”.
Depending on their age and risk factors the new guidance states that women who are trying to get pregnant, have recently had a baby or are breastfeeding can also be given any vaccine. Some research has indicated that pregnant women run the risk of becoming severely unwell if they contract Covid, particularly in the later stages of pregnancy.
As lockdown eases the message from government remains the same; ‘Hands. Face, Space, Fresh Air’. And get vaccinated.