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Blackburn with Darwen health boss: Our ‘pants on fire’ virus drive

THE first confirmed case of the Covid-19 Delta Variant was identified in Blackburn with Darwen on April 7. Since then, everyone working on the pandemic across the borough have had their ‘pants on fire’ mounting a fantastic surge response to the rise in cases.

This response has included council staff, NHS staff, the police, the social care sector, the voluntary faith and community sector, Covid Community Champions and the business and commercial sector across the Borough.

It now looks just possible that we have a positive result. The confirmed case rates in Blackburn with Darwen rose to a peak rate of 667 per 100,000 on the 6th June, but they have since fallen consecutively over the next three days to June 10 where they ended at 599 per 100,000.

We need to be careful not claim that rates have peaked or ‘turned the corner’ until we have a continued fall in rates for a consecutive seven days. But we can definitively say that the pattern of a continuous upward trend in cases since April has now been broken.

This is great news.

We can have moderately high confidence in the data. Our surge testing response has given us an excellent high and rising testing rate. On June 14 we were testing at a rate of 678 per 100,000 whilst the regional and national average was around 400. Testing, and supporting confirmed cases to self–isolate is a key way to reduce community transmission of the virus.

Over the next two months, East Lancashire Hospitals Trust will have one of the highest risks of Covid related hospital admissions in the country. Blackburn with Darwen case rates should continue to subside over time, but the continued reduction in rates is, on previous experience, likely to be slow. Meanwhile, all of the other catchment area Local Authorities for the hospital are on an upward trend. As of the June 16, the number of Covid in patients in ELHT had risen to 56. These numbers are likely to rise further before they fall again. Deaths will be minimal compared to previous waves – but there will undoubtedly be some further Covid deaths over the summer.

This week the government have put back the final lockdown lifting step to the July 19. They have named all of Lancashire and Greater Manchester as areas of high and rising cases of the Delta variant. They will be expected to step up their surge response in ways similar to the responses mounted recently by Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen.

National modelling data is giving very strong signals that, even if we stick to Step Three of lockdown lifting, the whole of the UK may be headed for a third wave peaking late July or August. For the North-West Region this will be a fourth wave.

This is being termed the pandemic ‘exit wave’. To meet this wave we need as many as possible to have double dose vaccine protection. Across Pennine Lancashire, stepping up our second dose vaccination rate to 90 per cent of the eligible population, as soon as possible, will now need to be the number one priority for us all.