Southend Covid cases double in just two weeks

The percentage of people testing positive for Covid-19 has doubled in just two weeks as cases soar among young people aged between 17 and 28, a council boss has warned.

Southend Council’s director of public health, Krishna Ramkhelawon, said the authority is doing everything it can to reduce the spread but he fears if the growth in cases continues, it is only a matter of time before the virus hits the borough’s most vulnerable.

The increase is believed to be driven by younger residents who are becoming too complacent over coronavirus safety measures, such as social distancing and wearing a mask.

Mr Ramkhelawon said: “People need to understand where we are.

“Two and a half weeks ago the percentage of positive tests in Southend was between 0.6 and 0.7 per cent. Now it is between 1.2 per cent and 1.3 per cent. It has effectively doubled.”

Last week that number reached as high as 1.6 per cent but with the amount of testing rising each week, the data gives the impression of a small decline in the past seven days.

The incidence rate – which is the measurement of how many coronavirus cases are identified over a 7-day period per 100,000 people – also now stands at between 12 and 13.

The highest it reached during the lockdown was 13.5.

Most of the positive cases are being recorded among people aged between 17 and 28 – a major drop from 65 when the outbreak first happened.

But Mr Ramkhelawon believes it could just be a matter of time before the elderly and the vulnerable are hit by the virus again.

He continued: “What we are seeing is a gradual increase in incidents and the likelihood is that this is because people have become complacent.

“This is happening more and more and it is only going to increase the risk.

“I don’t know how much more I can hold back the fire. It won’t be long before the spread reaches people who are vulnerable and we will see more people in the hospitals again.”

He added that the most challenging aspect of the virus is most people do not fully understand its dangers until they are directly affected through either getting it or seeing a relative suffer from it.

“Right now there is no tangibility to it,” he continued. “but you really don’t want to get ill from this and most of all, you do not want to pass it on.”

Despite, the warnings Southend continues to have one of the lowest infection rates in the whole of the East of England and the public health boss praised people for social distancing and taking precautions during visits to the seafront.

He said national data shows “there has been no outbreaks associated with a Southend beach”, despite the huge numbers of visitors seen during a heatwave last month.

Thurrock Council revealed last week it has also seen an increase in the spread of the virus over the same two-week period, with the percentage of people testing positive now reaching 5 per cent.

Thurrock’s director of public health called it “concerning” and said it is something that the council will “watch very, very carefully”.

Council unable to do anything about people who refuse to self-isolate

People are refusing to self-isolate in Southend after being in contact with people with Covid-19 symptoms or have symptoms themselves.

The council’s director of public health said the authority knows some people could be spreading the virus by not self-isolating but the council does not have the resources to force them to stay home.

Health boss Krishna Ramkhelawon said the only way it would be possible to enforce self-isolation is if the Government introduces the long-delayed track and trace app and allows people to be tracked via their phones.

He said: “People are not self-isolating and they are not taking personal responsibility.

“We can try to enforce this but we need to know who they are and then we need the resources to track them.

“Let’s say there was 50 people in a case, where do you get the resource to make sure all of them self-isolate. The only way is through the NHS tracking system. Then you can use the app to monitor if what people are doing is illegal.”

While he acknowledged people may be concerned about privacy with this kind of system but called it a “health emergency” and insisted “if you cannot track people, you cannot enforce”. He further stated the app would not be gathering any personal information beyond checking if you leave the house.

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter