Amid county’s largest coronavirus outbreak, what next for Norfolk?
- Credit: Archant
As the fight to contain Norfolk’s largest single outbreak of Covid-19 continues, the question on people’s lips is: ‘What next for our county?’
What we know so far is this.
On Monday (October 26) it was revealed 144 workers at Cranswick Country Foods, in Watton, had tested positive for coronavirus. All were asymptomatic and told to self-isolate.
News of the escalating crisis came to light 11 days after confirmation a “small number” of employees had contracted the virus.
Testing at the Brandon Road site has continued over the course of this week and dozens more cases look set to be confirmed by public health officials at a press conference on Thursday afternoon.
Cranswick - as it stands - remains open.
Its only concrete update so far came on Monday evening, when a spokesman said: “We envisage there will be disruption to the full operation of the plant in the short term.”
But George Freeman, MP for Mid Norfolk, has called for a “fast” decision on the factory’s potential closure, writing to cabinet ministers to highlight his concerns.
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And on Thursday morning, Mr Freeman tweeted there was “still no decision” from Public Health England, despite the leaders of Norfolk County Council and Breckland being “ready to contain” the outbreak.
Meanwhile, in Watton, the effect of the outbreak on the town’s latest infection rate is alarming.
Latest data shows it now stands at 1,200 cases per 100,000 people, making it the ninth-highest rate out of 6,700 neighbourhoods across England.
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Questions are now being raised over what impact that will have on restrictions across Norfolk as a whole, which is currently in Tier One of the government’s alert system.
The infection rate in Breckland has surged to a record 172.2 cases per 100,000 for the seven days up to October 24, while Great Yarmouth has also hit a new high of 137.9.
For context, the Berkshire town of Slough was upgraded to Tier Two last week having reached 164.5 cases per 100,000 people.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said its infection rate moving above the 100 per 100,000 mark was a trigger for raising the alert level, alongside Stoke-on-Trent and Coventry.
The prospect of Watton, given its size, going into Tier Two on its own seems highly improbable.
But could Breckland’s ever-growing rate - the highest in Norfolk - see measures tighten in the district, but stay as they are elsewhere?
Rules being kept the same across the county, given its geography and population demographic, will likely be seen as a more practical proposition.
However, it must be highlighted that much of Norfolk still has a relatively low case rate, including North Norfolk where it stands at just 33.4 per 100,000 people - the fourth lowest in England.
To plunge North Norfolk and several other districts into Tier Two seems far from fair.
As for Cranswick, it appears the company is keen to continue operating to at least some extent, as Banham Poultry did in Attleborough until directed otherwise.
Mr Freeman has highlighted reluctance among food businesses experiencing outbreaks to close due to a lack of financial support.
He said a compensation package would ensure others were “not discouraged from reporting outbreaks and cooperating with Public Health England”.