Norfolk at ‘tipping point’ over Covid-19, warns public health director
- Credit: Norfolk County Council
Norfolk has reached a tipping point over coronavirus, with the disease now spreading among communities, the county’s director of public health has said.
Dr Louise Smith, Norfolk’s director of public health, said it seems Covid-19 has now gone into the epidemic phase, with transmission in areas which previously had low rates.
And she said there were now concerns over the potential spread of the virus to older age groups - which would be a key issue for the county’s hospitals in coping at what is always their busiest time of the year.
It came as a spokesman for the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) confirmed it had seen an increase in Covid-related admissions.
The overall rate for Norfolk remains relatively steady at 95 cases per 100,000 people, down slightly on last week’s 101 cases per 100,000 people.
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And Dr Smith said, unlike with previous increases in areas such as Breckland, Great Yarmouth and Norwich, that cannot be attributed to outbreaks in factories or to the heightened testing of students at the University of East Anglia.
The rate of cases in Broadland has doubled in the space of a week, increasing from 60.4 cases per 100,000 people in the seven days prior to Saturday, October 31 to 128.5 cases per 100,000 people in the week up to last Saturday - a new high for the district.
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In terms of actual cases, there were 79 positive tests in Broadland in the seven days up to Halloween and 168 positive tests in the seven days up to Saturday.
A new record rate high was also hit in South Norfolk. There were 95.1 cases per 100,000 people in the seven days up to Saturday, November 7.
The number of actual cases went up from 90 in the seven days up to Halloween to 134 in the seven days up to Saturday.
Rates in North Norfolk, consistently the area of Norfolk with the lowest rates, went up from 29.6 cases per 100,000 in the week before Saturday, October 31 to 47.7 per 100,000 in the seven days before Saturday.
In terms of cases, there were 50 positive cases in the week up to Saturday, compared to 31 during the previous week.
Dr Smith said: “What I think is happening is the way the virus is transmitting has reached a tipping point. I think we have gone into the epidemic phase, so we are seeing free transmission in the community and, most starkly, in areas where there have been low rates.
“Public Health England have been forecasting this for a number of weeks and I think that’s what led us to the national lockdown.”
She said increased cases in care homes could be one of the reasons for the Broadland rise and that it was crucial to stop the spread to protect older people - who are more likely to need hospital treatment if they are infected with Covid-19.
She said: “What we are seeing is a drop in cases among 18 to 22-year-olds, but we are starting to see the numbers rise in other age groups - people in their 30s, then their 40s and their 50s. The numbers are starting to increase and it’s the people in their 60s and above who are the ones who are most likely to need hospital treatment.”
Thirty-nine new coronavirus cases have also pushed the rate of the virus in Great Yarmouth to a new record high.
But Dr Smith said figures she had seen suggested that the rate was going down there. Rates have also dropped in Norwich and Breckland, which she said had helped stabilise the overall Norfolk rate.
In Breckland, where more than 250 workers had tested positive for Covid-19 at Cranswick Country Foods in Watton, the rate dropped.
It stood at 116.5 per 100,000 in the week up to Halloween but fell to 87.2 over the following seven days. That was a drop from 163 cases to 122.
And Norwich’s rate fell from 91.1 cases per 100,000 in the week leading to Halloween to 86.8 in the week up to Saturday. The number of actual cases dropped from 128 to 122.
The new national lockdown was introduced on Thursday last week, so the latest figures do not yet demonstrate what impact that will have on the spread of the virus.
An NNUH spokesman said: “We are seeing an increase in the numbers of patients with Covid-19 who require hospital treatment and it is really important that everyone in Norfolk and Waveney continues thorough handwashing, social distancing and wearing face coverings when needed.”