Wigan public health chief urges vigilance as work continues to contain rising Covid-19 case rates

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Professor Kate Ardern spoke of the efforts being made to slow down the borough's increasing coronavirus numbers.

Professor Ardern, the director of public health at Wigan Council, said the borough’s figures had not gone up as much as she had feared given the huge spike in neighbouring Bolton and other parts of the North West.

But she said the increased transmission of the Delta variant (previously known as the so-called Indian variant) of the novel coronavirus meant it was vital people continued following the regulations to stop its spread.

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Prof Kate Ardern, director of public health at Wigan CouncilProf Kate Ardern, director of public health at Wigan Council
Prof Kate Ardern, director of public health at Wigan Council

Wigan’s latest Covid-19 case rate is just over 85 per 100,000 residents, a notable increase from the figures recorded in recent weeks.

This puts the borough almost exactly at the North West average and roughly in line with the Greater Manchester average if Bolton, where case levels have currently fallen to around 380 per 100,000 people, is taken out of the equation.

Prof Ardern says that while Wigan’s cases have risen there is no evidence yet that the borough will see sudden, sharp spikes in numbers as other boroughs have experienced with the Delta variant.

She says partly this is because the western and southern half of the borough tends to be connected more to areas where numbers remain lower.

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And she says targeted work is being done in wards closest to Bolton where the risk to residents is highest.

Prof Ardern said: “Given the situation in Bolton and that numbers have gone shooting up in places like Chorley, South Ribble and Salford I’m surprised they are not higher than they are in Wigan.

“Other boroughs in Greater Manchester which are not far behind us are going up at a quicker rate than we are.

“Warrington, St Helens and West Lancashire all remain low and the western and southern half of our borough tends to mix with those rugby league boroughs. That is holding at the moment.

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“The biggest increases are in Leigh, Atherton and Tyldesley. They are clearly most at risk and we are targeting messages about encouraging uptake of the vaccine, testing and compliance on that side of the borough.

“Worryingly we are three times the England average and case rates among over-60s have gone up to 22.1 per 100,000 people. I am a little bit worried about that.

“I am trying to limit the rate of rises as much as possible. What we are not seeing is exponential growth, where the case rate doubles in a week. We’re not in an accelerated epidemic phase, but that could change.”

Prof Ardern said that overall Wigan’s vaccination rates give cause for optimism, with 94 per cent of over-80s and 95 per cent of Wiganers aged between 70 and 79 have now had both doses of a jab.

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Attention is currently focused on getting second doses to 50-to-59-year-olds but Prof Ardern urged anyone over 18 who finds themselves in the nine priority groups set down by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to book appointments.

She said: “We’re concentrating on getting the 50-to-59 age group their second doses and we’re doing as much as we can to get first doses out to the younger age groups.

“If you meet the eligibility criteria for the priority groups and are aged 18 or upwards I would encourage you to come forward to book a vaccination or respond to an invitation.

“Our stats are very good compared to what we’ve seen elsewhere but we’re doing some work in areas where the uptake isn’t as good. We’re doing door-to-door knocking and having those conversations.”

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Prof Ardern said the Delta variant is currently impacting mostly on groups which have not been vaccinated.

Although hospitalisations and deaths remain very low she said it was important to remember that younger people falling ill with Covid-19 may still need to seek help from primary care sources such as GPs or NHS 111.

That adds pressure on systems which are currently trying to meet demand for non-coronavirus related treatments and also have a major part to play in the vaccination roll-out.

Prof Ardern said it was vital that people continue to follow the rules designed to slow the coronavirus’ spread.

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And she said it was too early to say whether the country should move to the next stage of the Government road map on June 21.

She said: “I think June 21 is in the balance. The Government has put back the decision until June 14 and it will depend on how the Delta variant continues to spread across the country.

“Much will depend on how it pans out over the next two weeks.

“It is about whether the four tests on the national road map have been met. For us, the one about variants of concern has not been met at the moment.

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“With the Bolton situation it was inevitable our cases would go up, we couldn’t avoid it. We have to reinforce the public health messages and ask people not to be complacent.

“Do your testing twice a week, observe all the measures, wear a face covering, wash your hands, keep your distance and enjoy the sunshine and fresh air as much as possible. If you're going on holiday please go to a green list country and avoid the amber list ones, you will have to quarantine when you come back. If you can go on holiday somewhere in the UK, we have a lot of nice places here.

"Enjoy your freedoms but remember we have an ongoing situation.”

Greater Manchester does now have permission to allow schools to continue asking for face coverings to be worn until the end of term, and Prof Ardern said she would advise Wigan heads to keep this in place.

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Financial support is also available for people who need to self-isolate after testing positive and Prof Ardern urged anyone in that position to get in touch with the council.

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