'A year ago this week, Britain's third patient tested positive with coronavirus. 100,000 deaths and one year later, we are in the midst of, we hope, is our final lockdown'

Column by the director of health at Public Health Northamptonshire

Tuesday, 2nd February 2021, 4:07 pm
Updated Tuesday, 2nd February 2021, 4:08 pm
Director of health in Northamptonshire, Lucy Wightman

I hope you are all staying safe, well and somehow managing to beat the lockdown blues. I’m not alone in finding it tougher and more challenging this time around. In March last year we were frightened and fuelled by adrenalin, the good weather saw us through the second time, but this time the feelings, emotions and physical toll of almost a year of grief, anxiety and isolation are meaning that for many on the front line and at home, it’s a struggle. There is good news however. We know that lockdown worked twice before and case rates across the county and the country are showing that it is working again.

There are very strong signs of progress and improvement. The county as a whole, and all districts and boroughs except for East Northamptonshire, have seen a decrease in case numbers compared to the previous week. While the numbers do remain high with 3,009 residents having tested positive in the most recent 7 days, it is clear nonetheless that the infection rate is coming down. Hospital cases have also been decreasing slightly and that trend will eventually lead to a reduction in the number of deaths. A large number of our care home residents have now received the vaccine and the over 80s and over 70s roll out across the county is progressing well. The vaccination programme should also start having an impact soon, leading, to a further drop in deaths in the coming months.

I am confident that if we continue to stick to the lockdown rules, get tested and get vaccinated, we can maintain this downward trend, but it’s vital that we keep using all the tools available to us in the fight against the coronavirus.

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For the vaccination programme to be as successful as possible, it is important that as many residents as possible respond to the call and get the jab. In Northamptonshire, the vaccine is being offered by appointment in hospitals, at local vaccination clinics run by GPs, and at the Vaccination Centre in Moulton Park, Northampton.

Vaccinations are now being given to the following groups:

* people aged 80 and over

* some people aged 70 and over

* some people who are clinically extremely vulnerable

* people who live or work in care homes

* health and social care workers at high risk

Testing is another important way which we can beat this. If you are currently based at home, but your work involves regular contact with others, or if you cannot work from home due to the nature of your employment, please book a test at the Community Rapid Testing Centre at either the University of Northampton or at Lodge Park Sports Centre in Corby. It takes 30 minutes to get a result and you can book a slot here. If positive, the test means you are infectious and must isolate however, the test does not tell you if you are COVID-free and therefore all COVID-secure measures must still be exercised even if you get a negative result.

In a bid to ensure all coronavirus related news is reaching far and wide, Northamptonshire County Council is recruiting ‘COVID Community Ambassadors’ to share all the up-to-date information about the virus. Nothing compares to hearing information from family, friends and trusted people within the community and the Ambassadors will be the conduit between the community and the council in understanding the barriers people experience in accessing information and complying with guidelines, as well as making sure everyone knows what they need to do to in the coming days, weeks and months ahead. If you would be interested in being a COVID Community Ambassador then register your interest here.

Although we now have all these tools to help us in the fight against COVID-19, the new mutant strain of the virus does remain up to 70% more transmissible and 30% more deadly than the previous strain so we must remain vigilant. We know that national lockdown works in stopping the spread of the virus, so please continue to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives. Also, if you must leave the house for essential exercise or shopping, keep following the protective gold standard trio: hands, face, space; so we will continue to see our positive case rates, hospitalisations and deaths continue to come down.

COVID-19 continues to distort time – it’s hard to believe it was only this time one year ago that Britain’s third patient tested positive with coronavirus. One hundred thousand deaths and one year on, we are in the midst of what we hope will be our final lockdown to combat the disease. Beating COVID-19 continues to feel like a marathon but by supporting each other, and by taking one step at a time, we are making progress towards the freedoms we all miss so much.