Research says Southend has highest infection rate in Essex but councillors dispute data

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Coronavirus could be spreading faster in Southend than anywhere else in Essex according to an analysis of daily lab tests across the country

The research found the R-rate, which indicates how quickly a virus is spreading in a certain area, is now sitting at 0.84 in Southend – the highest in the county.

But council bosses have disputed the research claiming it has used inaccurate data and Southend’s infection rate is believed to be in line with the rest of the county.

The Government has been trying to keep the reproduction rate or R-rate below one because if it crosses that, the epidemic will grow exponentially and residents could face a second wave of the virus but if it is kept below one the epidemic will ultimately disappear.

New data – presented on crowd-sharing research platform Deckzero – shows that Southend not only has one of the highest R-rates in the county but that it also shot up to 0.99 on Sunday, days after the town’s beaches were flooded with people.

However, Councillor Trevor Harp, who oversees health in the borough, has rejected the claims.

He said: “We haven’t got official figures from Public Health England for Southend yet but we have been under the impression that we are around average for Essex.

“The R-number is to do with the regeneration of the infection, how quickly it is infecting other people.

“I would be very surprised if this research is accurate to say it was 0.99 for this Sunday as most data on this lags behind by around a fortnight, it is possible we had an increase on the VE-day weekend.

“You have to keep in mind that this virus has an incubation period of anything from five to 10 days. It can take that long for someone to show symptoms and then they have to have a test which can take up to 48 hours to report back so I would not expect if someone was exposed during the weekend for those figures to be available Friday morning.

“It is unlikely I would have thought.”

He further explained that one of the flaws of the research it is had looked at daily lab test results.

Southend has a testing centre set up at the airport and if lab test results from there were taken into consideration, Mr Harp said you would be looking at the result for a large part of south Essex because it is not just Southend residents who are tested there.

Despite doubts over the data, the research does also indicate the has fallen dramatically over the last month when compared to what appears to be the local peak in late March and early April.

At that time, the R-rate was as high as three.

In the Essex County Council authority area, which includes Basildon, Castle Point and Rochford, the spread rate, or R Number, was averaging at 0.78 on Tuesday.

As the lockdown is gradually lifted, the aim nationally will be to keep the reproduction number below one.

If it crosses that then councils could be handed the power to enforce local lockdowns, which could mean shutting down parts of the town, roads or individual businesses.

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter