Coronavirus cases in Norfolk ‘creeping’ up warns county’s public health director

The number of Covid-19 cases in Norfolk are rising, the county's director of public health has warne

The number of Covid-19 cases in Norfolk are rising, the county's director of public health has warned. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020

The number of coronavirus cases in Norfolk are “creeping up”, the county’s director of public health has warned, as she said a tightrope must be walked to keep the virus in check.

Louise Smith, director of public health in Norfolk. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

Louise Smith, director of public health in Norfolk. Picture: Ella Wilkinson - Credit: Archant

While cases in the county remain low compared to the rest of the country, Dr Louise Smith said it was a concern that the numbers were going up.

But she said less than 1pc of people being tested in the county were coming back with a positive result for Covid-19.

Prime minister Boris Johnson has announced new restrictions, inlcuding a 10pm curfew on pubs and restaurants and the need to wear masks in more settings, amid concern over increasing rates in parts of the country.

And Dr Smith told BBC Radio Norfolk: “Our background rate at the moment is fairly steady. Our rate is about 7.5 [cases per 100,000 people], compared to England’s average of about 34, so clearly the numbers are a lot lower here in Norfolk.

“But those numbers are creeping up. They were much lower than that in early August and even now, when we have recovered from the high numbers around the Banham Poultry outbreak, our background numbers are quite a bit higher than they were, say, six weeks ago.”

Dr Smith said the county had been bracing itself for such a rise in cases. She said: “What we saw announced nationally was concerns that across England those numbers are just steadily on an linear increase.

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“We’re not quite seeing that yet here in Norfolk, but we do expect that the numbers here will start to catch up with, or look like what we are seeing across the rest of England.

“And of course, the worry is, if that keeps going, at some point it will surge up and become a new peak.”

Asked whether she agreed with the school of thought that low rates meant further restrictions for Norfolk could be avoided, she thanked everybody for their efforts in minimising contact and sticking to social distancing to keep numbers low.

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She said the latest announcements were a reminder of the importance of that.

On issues with testing, she said there had been a “surge in demand”, which had been anticipated to some extent, given schools were going back.

She said testing rates had “gone up massively” from about 75 per 100,000 people to 113 per 100,000.

Dr Smith added: “What matters, not only that we are doing more testing, is whether we are testing the right people.

“What we are seeing is less than 1pc of those having a test are coming back positive. If I take a step back and look at the big picture, I am satisfied that we are doing the right kind of level of testing here in Norfolk - 99 of a 100 tests are negative, still.

“I appreciate that’s not a lot of consolation if you have been trying to get a test, or are waiting for a result.

“What we are hoping is that we see those delays and difficulties will settle down as demand stabilises.”

On the implications of the latest restrictions, Dr Smith said: “It’s such a tightrope that we are walking and clearly we are concerned about people’s mental health, we are concerned about getting children into education and also that we keep the NHS open for business, both for emergencies and for planned care.

“My anticipation is over the coming months, we are going to see more cases, the numbers go up, need for more control measures and we are going to need to walk that tightrope. It’s all going to be a balance of choices as to what we priortise.”

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