Prof Kate Ardern addressed the health and social care scrutiny committee at Wigan Town Hall with concern as she delivered her latest update on Covid-19 and revealed a sub-variant of omicron was now hitting hard and spreading fast.
The sub-variant is causing fatigue which is lasting for five to 10 days, it has been reported.
One of the groups most affected is working-age people – and she used the current staffing issues at Manchester Airport as a key example of how Covid absences are causing an impact on day-to-day life. The airport has been besieged by issues in recent days caused by staff shortages and the relaxation of travel restrictions.
“Covid-19 is rapidly rising across the North West,” Prof Ardern said.
“We [Wigan] are not the highest in the North West, that is Cumbria and Lancashire. We are the fourth highest in Greater Manchester and we are seeing a rise in our over 60s rates.
“This is an under-representation [of the number of cases in reality] because we have had a change because as of April 1 lateral flow tests are not available for free. We are also seeing a rise in cases in the workforce population.
“You are seeing the issues at Manchester Airport at the moment because of this, as well as a rise in admissions to hospital. Covid is absolutely not over.”
She was openly critical of the decision to remove free lateral flow tests, which was implemented on April 1, and explained that it only made sense to do this if rates were decreasing – but they are not.
She went on to say that this increase in cases has caused staffing issues in schools.
Wigan is experiencing an increase in the number of confirmed school Covid-19 cases – 1,275 within the last fortnight – despite reduced take-up of testing and reporting ahead of March 31.
Fred Longworth High School, Three Towers Academy, Lowton High School and Leigh St Peter’s Primary School were all having to or nearly having to introduce attendance restrictions due to the number of staff off work with Covid-19.
Wigan had 2,034 new cases identified in the latest seven days, a rate of 615 per 100,000 population.
Prof Ardern is urging people to adhere to the previous “hands, face, space” message as well as avoiding going into work if they have symptoms to reduce transmission rates.
“Living with Covid policy changes will generate significant pressure for local systems, in demobilising current national and local activity, transitioning to business as usual and ensuring that sufficient capacity and capability is retained to escalate to surge to respond to further clusters, outbreaks or epidemic waves,” Prof Ardern’s report said.
“Lack of clarity in national policy around advice for workplaces on management of staff absence with Covid symptoms and eligibility for free testing will also create demand on services.”