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Norfolk in early stages of steep rise in coronavirus cases, says public health director

PUBLISHED: 16:33 13 October 2020 | UPDATED: 08:01 14 October 2020

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

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

Archant

The number of people being treated for coronavirus in Norfolk’s hospitals is increasing, the county’s director of public health has said.

And Dr Louise Smith said she believes Norfolk is currently two weeks behind England, as a whole, when it comes to Covid-19 infection rates.

Prime minister Boris Johnson this week announced three tiers of restrictions - very high, high and medium, with Norfolk falling into the medium category.

Dr Smith said the number of people in hospital with the virus was “starting to go up a little bit” and was somewhere between 20 to 30 people. Just over a month ago there were none.

The current rate of positive cases in Norfolk is about 47 cases per 100,000, with the England average closer to 150 per 100,000.

And she said: “Our trajectory has tended to be about two weeks behind England. We saw that in the first peak. When they closed down in London our numbers were low.

“We had a lower lull in the summer than the average for England by some way. In September we’ve seen the numbers go up in England quite rapidly. We didn’t see that in September, but we are definitely seeing that in October. Those very steep rises we have seen in other places, we look like we are in the early stages of that.”

Dr Smith stressed Norfolk’s current rate was still well below the northern cities, where harsher restrictions have been introduced.

But she said: “The debate becomes how fast and how high are we going to go? And we don’t know.”

She said the bulk of positive cases in Norwich were among 15 to 30-year-olds, while it was older people, up to the age of 50 in the rest of the county.

She said “The numbers have gone up in Norwich. About half of the cases in Norwich are linked to the universities and to students. It may not just be the UEA, but it is the student population.”

The University of East Anglia has, in association with the Earlham Institute, been providing voluntary testing to students and staff, even if they are asymptomatic.

And Dr Smith said that would inevitably mean more positive cases are recorded.

She said: “We’ve got much more testing happening now, so testing numbers have gone up massively. A couple of months ago we were testing about 60 to 70 per 100,000 and now we’re testing 115 per 100,000, so it’s gone up massively even compared to August.

“Of course, with that, the numbers of people we are diagnosing can’t be interpreted in the same way they were in the first wave, so the other thing we need to keep an eye on are the admissions to hospital.

“If the asymptomatic screening programme picks people up quicker and, because they are asked to isolate to stop spread, then overall, we should have fewer people ill.

“The worry is not so much young, fit, people being affected, who generally have quite a mild illness, the worry is when the numbers get high it spreads into our frail elderly and older people. The bit we are waiting to see is whether the screening at the university will have a helpful impact on reducing the number that end up being admitted to hospital.”

Dr Smith praised people in Great Yarmouth for their efforts to help reduce the number of positive cases in the seaside town and said everyone in Norfolk can play a part in stemming the spread of the virus by following the guidelines.

MORE: How does Norfolk compare to where northern cities were in September?


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