After more than 12 months of struggles, Lancashire’s coronavirus battle is largely one that the county is now comfortably winning.

But the fight against the virus continues – with public health experts in the county continuing with their safety messages to keep Covid-19 at bay.

Currently, the county is suffering from two outbreaks of the virus. But for now, health bosses are urging calm with testing identifying the causes behind both with no wider threat to the general public.

In Hyndburn, the situation is most precarious.

The east Lancashire borough has the second worst infection rate in all of England following a mass outbreak of infections across the borough.

Cases have on the whole been linked back to Accrington’s Mount Carmel RC High School, which is largely why the borough’s infection rate has risen from 28.4 new cases per 100,000 people in the week of testing to April 19 to what is now 82.7 in the week to April 26.

The situation is even worrisome on a hyper-local level, with the Oswaldtwistle neighbourhood’s infection rate now at 356.8 and Accrington West recording a rate of 164.8 in the more recent complete week of testing data to May 3.

Most students were set to return to the school from today (May 4), with extra time put in place to remind pupils about the importance of being Covid-safe.

“We will have arranged for an extended form time on Tuesday to remind pupils about the importance of personal hygiene, wearing face masks, entry / exit arrangements, the 1-way system and arrangements for break and lunch,” headteacher Xavier Bowers said in a letter to parents.

“I can also reassure families that Public Health England are not concerned about a variant. It has been identified as the standard UK strain that is dominant in the UK population.

“Further to my video message, Public Health England believe that we are now well on top of this outbreak and recommend that we revert back to our twice weekly Lateral Flow tests for all staff and pupils before arriving at school.”

And while Hyndburn’s overall rate stands out above the crowd when it comes to concern, Preston is currently home to Lancashire’s Covid capital.

The city district of St Matthew’s has recorded an eye-watering Covid rate of 402.6 in the week to May 3 after 35 confirmed cases were identified across the seven days.

It comes after a large outbreak of the virus was identified among inmates at HMP Preston, located in the St Matthew’s area. One inmate reported that 58 cases were at one point picked up in a week.

Jade Morgan, councillor for St Matthew’s ward, said the issue drew light on the overcrowding problems at the city prison which she said helps the virus “spread like wildfire”.

The institution, which dates back to the Victorian era, held 650 male prisoners as of August 2020 when it was subject to an inspection by government officials. A report published after this described the prison as severely overcrowded and undermining the efforts to stop the spread of Covid-19.

To stop the spread of Covid at HMP Preston, inmates have been forced to remain in their cells for large parts of the day.

LancsLive also understands the service is working closely with HMP Preston to ensure that staff and prisoners have access to appropriate PPE.

“You have hundreds upon hundreds of inmates stuck in close quarters,” Councillor Morgan said.

“It’s going to spread like wildfire in that situation.

“Some people might look at it and go ‘I’m not too bothered because it’s prisoners’ but it is an issue that needs to be examined. Overcrowding is an issue for health risks like coronavirus and bringing cases down.”

St Matthew’s struggle against beating Covid is nothing new, with historically high Covid rates seen throughout the pandemic. But for Coun Morgan, the issue goes deeper than just statistics.

“There’s a lot of poverty, low income households, and low socioeconomic status,” she said.

“Some areas with higher income can stay at home and isolate while working, bringing rates down. Not everyone has that luxury. These people don’t have that choice if they want to provide.

“My own mum is a care home worker. Lots don’t have the opportunity to work from home. And that puts people at risk. There has been no choice but to work throughout all of this to provide for their families.”

Coun Morgan also drew attention to people working in these roles largely living in densely populated households, meaning the ability to isolate from family members – if Covid positive – was nigh on impossible.

On the situation at HMP Preston, a prison service spokesperson said: “Our priority is to limit the spread of the virus and protect the lives of those who live and work in our prisons. “We have taken precautionary measures at HMP Preston in line with public health guidance, and will continue to closely monitor the situation.”

Responding to the situation in Hyndburn and Preston, Dr Sakthi Karunanithi, Director of Public Health for Lancashire County Council, said there is no reason to be concerned about the spread of the virus with both outbreaks identified.

But he stressed the continuation of Covid-safe practices such as handwashing, mask-wearing, and social distancing.

“The two recent outbreaks at Mount Carmel RC High School in Accrington and HM Prison Preston have inevitably affected the wider infection rates,” Dr Karunanithi said.

“While the public should not be alarmed by the outbreaks, it is a clear reminder that Covid-19 is still present in Lancashire.

“That’s why it is vital, as we rightly enjoy our new freedoms, that we stick to the rules and remember the key behaviours of washing hands, wearing face coverings, making space and meeting in the fresh air to help stop the spread of Covid-19.

“It is also important that you take up the offer of twice weekly rapid testing and come forward for your vaccine when it is your turn.”

Download the LancsLive app for free on iPhone here and Android here.

You can sign up for free daily updates with the LancsLive newsletter here.

Categories:

Tags:

Comments are closed