Spike in Essex COVID-19 cases

People staying indoors is helping the number of COVID-19 cases in London to slow, but new figures show the opposite is happening in Essex which has experienced a spike in those testing positive for the virus.

New research by the County Council Network revealed that Essex experienced one of the biggest spikes in cases nationwide between March 31 and April 6, with an increase of 557 – second only to Lancashire where there was 560.

Southend Councillor Trevor Harp (Ind), who oversees health in the borough, said it was not unexpected.

“There is a lag between when people get the virus and when they begin to show symptoms,” he said.

“It is also quite common to see this with viruses throughout history. For instance, right now we’ve seen London as the prime area followed by the Midlands and this is something that happened with things like the plague, the black death and Spanish flu – it started in the larger areas and then spread out.

“We are also on the Thames corridor so we have probably seen more cases due to the number of people commuting to London. In the United States, they are seeing a similar pattern where this began in the big cities and is now spreading along the highways.

“It is natural to see a delay.”

Cllr Harp said the rise was not likely to be the result of people ignoring guidance from the government..

He continued: “I’ve lived in Southend all my life and I never thought I would be saying the seafront is deserted on Easter Monday is a good thing as it goes contrary to what Southend is about, we always welcome our visitors as it is an essential part of our economy.

“Orders were in place for a closure of roads at the discretion of the police but what I can say is police indicated there was no need to do that as people responded well.

“We also have not had a need to close the seafront roads, which would have been a drastic measure for us because it is there for seafront visitors and is also used by people for essential journeys.

“Hopefully we won’t have any need to do it in the future, but those orders are in place for 21 days, at which time we will review them.”

With the virus expected to peak over the next week, Mr Harp added that Southend is planning for “various scenarios” and while he is “striving for the best results you have to plan for the worst”.

In total 1,484 cases have now been recorded in Essex and figures from NHS England show that Basildon Hospital is the worst affected in the east of England having recorded 131 deaths.

Southend Hospital has recorded 97 deaths and it has emerged that a temporary mortuary is due to be set up to deal with the rising numbers across the county.

Another has been built at Chelmer Valley Park and Ride, outside Chelmsford.

Councillor David Williams, chairman of the County Councils Network, said: “While London and other urban areas have a disproportionate number of cases, positive tests have risen sharply in counties and rural areas over the past week, overtaking other parts of the country.

“Councils and their partners are well prepared and have extensive plans in place to work with all local agencies to respond locally.

“However, these latest figures show residents must continue to observe social distancing guidance as we head towards the peak of the epidemic and prevent services becoming overwhelmed.”

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter