What it means for you as Cambridgeshire and Peterborough are given Enhanced Response Area status amid rising Covid-19 rates
Extra measures to tackle the spiralling Covid-19 infection rates will be deployed in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough after the government agreed to give them the status of an Enhanced Response Area.
It follows calls from council leaders who were concerned that the number of cases being recorded is higher in many parts of the area than during the January peak.
Worryingly, infection rates have increased in older people, and there has been a rise in deaths.
The councils said pressure is building on both health and education services in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.
The Enhanced Response Area status takes effect for at least five weeks from Monday and means local authorities will:
- Accelerate and target the vaccination roll-out for those aged 12-15 to key areas and schools where infections are highest;
- Accelerate booster vaccinations for eligible groups who have had their second vaccination more than six months ago;
- Increase vaccination rate in areas with the lowest uptake;
- Enter into further discussions with the Department for Education about additional measures it can use in schools.
- What measures this might lead to has yet to be spelled out, but a return of the bubble system could be on the cards.
While the discussions with the DfE take place, authorities are are continuing to:
- Encourage secondary school teachers or pupils who are household contacts of positive cases to take daily LFT tests
- Continue with advice given to schools before the half term that face coverings should be worn in secondary school communal areas, and that meetings happen virtually where possible
- Encourage anyone who is a household contact of a positive case to take daily rapid tests, until a negative PCR test is received.
The wider population in the area is also being advised to:
- Wear face coverings in crowded and enclosed areas when coming into contact with people they do not usually meet
- Get vaccinated and test regularly - particularly before attending events
- Meet with others outside their households in well ventilated spaces
- Wash hands regularly and well
Cambridgeshire and Peterborough’s director of public health, Jyoti Atri, made the application to the government for the status with the support of lead politicians and health authorities in the area in a move to protect vulnerable people, the NHS and other services.
“A rising rate of infections particularly in our older population meant I had to make this application now,” said Ms Atri. “This increase starting to build in our 60-plus age groups, coupled with low vaccination rates in some parts of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough – means pressure is building on our local health services.
“This is exacerbated by increased levels of Covid infections in the general population, and staff being unable to work because they are infected or isolating. If unchecked, this will also impact on health care for other non-Covid needs.
“If we all do more now - together we can reduce pressure before the worst effects of winter really begin.”
Cambridgeshire recently recorded nine Covid-related deaths in five days and there were 3,351 confirmed cases of the virus in the week to October 24.
The infection rate for that week of 509.9 cases per 100,000 people was above the high national infection rate of 465.7
County councillor Richard Howitt, chair of the adults and health committee, said: “We are taking leadership locally now to protect lives and the health of local people, acting quickly in response to the expert advice given by our public health officials and recognising the seriousness that local trends have highlighted.
“I fully support the steps our director of public health has taken and our county council will do everything both to push for the resources to which this new status entitles us and to do everything to help implement new measures in response.
Cllr Howitt added: “Our vital public services – not just the health services, but the education of children in our schools - is starting to be severely affected by the rising rates of infection, with children missing their lessons or schools needing to close classes or even whole year groups because there aren’t a safe level of adults present due to isolation.”
“The enhanced status will further enable measures across the whole population that we know can work to slow down infection rates and were working earlier in the year. I hope this will be a wake-up call to anyone locally who believes the pandemic is over, and urge people to take notice of what is being recommended very seriously indeed.”
The Cambridge Independent revealed yesterday (Friday) that Cambridge University Hospitals is under considerable staffing pressure, with 500 people off sick, leading to concern for Addenbrooke’s, which has warned for weeks that its A&E department is exceptionally busy. An investigation was launched this week after a patient died in an ambulance while waiting to be admitted to A&E at the hospital.
City council leader Cllr Lewis Herbert, writing in his column in this week’s Cambridge Independent, revealed that local authority leaders were examining the prospect of Enhanced Area Status amid concern that central government was doing little to curb rising infection rates.
Voicing his despair that the government had failed to enact its Plan B to bring down infection levels, he said: “It is the biggest single responsibility of our national leaders to keep us all safe. Yet some government ministers would appear to prefer people believing that having most of us vaccinated means it’s all over. It’s not. It’s far from over.
“The UK death rate is currently 100 a day and could rise. Viruses thrive in winter. Do we want another 3,000 to 5,000 to die in the coming year? Plus a possible additional flu epidemic, including if all older and vulnerable people don’t get protection. If the 30 Addenbrooke’s beds with very ill Covid patients rises, others with different illnesses will really suffer. Just look at the queues of patients in ambulances already outside hospitals in counties like Cornwall.
“If Cambridge and our unmatchable Cambridgeshire NHS and our local multi-council team are to defeat Covid locally, we have to continue to treat it as a deadly enemy and killer of our loved ones and too many we knew.”
Yesterday, the figures seen by the Cambridge Independent showed that numbers on the Covid wards at Addenbrooke’s had indeed risen to 42.
Cllr Herbert urged people to wear masks to help reduce transmission.
He said: “The Cambridge Independent was one of the first papers to say that again and again that face coverings nearly 18months ago. So why, why, why do government ministers and MPs and national papers that support them persist in trying (often in vain) undermining their use and wrongly insinuate masks are ineffective? The opposite is true as people know too well in the Far East, where strict use has helped achieved the lowest death rates in the world.
“Other safety first steps matter equally. Younger people need jabs. Twelve to 15-year-olds can book theirs via the national booking system. All of need to get our double jabs and older people their boosters. Then at least a weekly lateral flow test if we mix with others, as well as tests before and after any journey or event involving a risk. Get a full PCR test if you test positive or still have symptoms.
“Personally, I will only attend an indoor large event, pub or restaurant wear mask observance is near 100 per cent when moving or mixing outside my group, and social distancing. We all need to follow the rules if a household member catches Covid, as my son did when my granddaughter caught CovidD at school a fortnight ago.
“We have to protect our local NHS with a sustained fall in Covid cases, not risk a damaging rise.”
There has also been concern about the slow speed of the vaccination roll-out at schools, with health authorities struggling to keep up with demand. While Cambourne Village College has been waiting for a visit from the vaccination team, for example, the town has recorded the highest rates of infection in South Cambridgeshire.
The age group 10-14 has been the most commonly affected and recent figures from before half-term showed more than 800 pupils in Cambridgeshire had the virus in a week.
NHS workers and local authority leaders alike are hoping the Enhanced Response Area status will help to bring down the infection rate.
Cllr Anna Smith, executive councillor for communities and deputy leader of the city council, welcomed the new status.
Cllr Smith, who is due to take over from Cllr Herbert as council leader, said: “This reminds us that the pandemic is far from over, and that good ventilation, getting vaccinated and wearing face coverings are just as important as ever.
“I want to encourage anyone who is eligible for a vaccine or booster but hasn't yet had one to get their jab as soon as possible.
“I urge residents to wear a face covering, unless they are exempt, especially in crowded spaces, on public transport and where appropriate indoors.”
And Cambridge’s Labour MP Daniel Zeichner said: “I have expressed strong support for the calls from the Cambridgeshire director of public health for additional powers in recent weeks so I welcome this news.
“There are clearly starkly increasing pressures on our NHS and winter is coming. I urge everyone who is eligible to get their vaccines and booster jabs and to please wear a face mask when indoors in places like shops. The killer virus has not gone away so let’s take all the precautions we can.”
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