Image above: Kelly O’Neill, Director of Public Health for LB Hounslow
Hounslow remains the joint-top borough in London for Covid infection rates, according to the council’s Director of Public Health, Kelly O’Neill.
In a meeting with Hounslow Chamber of Commerce, Kelly gave a statement on the current situation in the borough.
Rates of infection remain very high, but numbers are on a “very slow decline” as the lockdown begins to have an effect. At the moment, infections stand at 731 per 100,000, which is down from 841.4 per 100,000 last week.
Unlike the first lockdown, where infections dropped off relatively quickly, infection rates are taking longer to level out. “This is likely due to a slow response to the impact of the lockdown” said Kelly.
The case positivity rate, which is the number of people per 100 who test positive Covid, has previously stood at upwards of 30%. This meant that a lot of people may have had the virus but weren’t getting tested. If the rate falls to 5%, then the council says they will be confident most cases of infection are being discovered, which gives them a more accurate picture of infection levels. Currently, the case positivity rate is 14.8%.
Covid-related deaths have risen to 130 in January, up from 50 in December 2020, with “long, protracted, acute levels of hospital admissions” to continue while infections still remain high.
“Significant” spread of infection in care homes
Certain sectors of the community are particularly vulnerable to the new variant of Covid, which is much more transmissible than previous variants. 77% of all new cases are due to this new strain, with care homes apparently being particularly hard-hit.
“What we’re finding is that with routine testing in care homes and schools, care homes predominantly, we are seeing quite a significant spread of infection even before we get the results back so it’s incredibly important to have very tight infection control in these settings” said Kelly.
“Given where we were after the first wave, where we had the lowest number of excess deaths and our outbreaks in our care homes and the number of people who were infected in care homes was really low, it’s a very different scenario now. But this is not just Hounslow that’s experiencing this, this is across London and much wider.
“We’ve had [outbreaks] in schools but to a lesser extent, obviously schools aren’t operating now, but we are seeing an impact with schools only having key-worker staff, although the number of children in school is still high, essentially because the guidelines allow for that.
“We have had outbreaks in prisons and youth-offending institutions and a lot of outbreaks in workplaces and businesses – areas where people congregate on a regular basis.
Image above: a discarded facemask
Fears of ‘Covid fatigue’ among public
There are fears that the public are becoming fatigued by Covid restrictions and are increasingly taking risks in what is likely the most dangerous time in the pandemic.
Not everybody is following the guidelines too. Households which are “clearly linked” to each other have been developing symptoms over a series of few days after friends and family members have tested positive.
“Most of the time, people are following the rules (hands, face and space) but I think many people are fatigued by this and just every so often people let their guard down and when you’re dealing with a virus, you can’t let your guard down” Kelly said.
Images above: location of Chiswick’s new Covid testing centre – Stamford Brook, Isleworth Library
Where to get a test
A new site for testing people who have symptoms is planned to open soon in the car park at Welstead Way W4 1NH in the Stamford Brook area of Chiswick. It was built on Monday 25 January, with a pilot test due on Wednesday 27 January.
Identifying cases remains the council’s key tactic for suppressing the virus. Up to 14,000 borough residents are visiting either the standard PCR drive-through/ walk-through tests or visiting any one of the new, rapid testing sites every week.
Rapid testing for people who are asymptomatic is available at: Isleworth Library, Twickenham Rd, Isleworth TW7 7EU; Wellington Day Centre 292 Staines Rd, Hounslow TW4 5BA; Hounslow House, 7 Bath Rd, Hounslow TW3 3EB and Heston Library, New Heston Road, Hounslow TW5 0LW.
There are also roving mobile testing units which drive around to various businesses testing asymptomatic workers. If you’re a business that would like to have a testing unit come to you, you’re advised to contact public health at housnlow.gov.uk.
As of this week, secondary schools, primary schools and early years will go live with rapid testing despite criticisms about the efficacy of the tests.
“Whilst the test isn’t perfect, it does allow schools to be on the front foot because last term it was constantly a reactive response to cases in schools and the impact was quite widely felt” said Kelly. The Department of Education has paused national plans for “serial, seven-day testing” and instead schools will now be testing pupils only twice a week.
Image above: residents in the queue outside Chiswick Health Centre to be vaccinated
75% of over 80s have been vaccinated
Roughly about 75% of the borough’s over 80s have received the Covid vaccine and, if supply of the vaccine remains at its current levels, everybody in the four major priority groups will be vaccinated by the middle of February.
“I encourage our older residents, anybody who works in health and social care, it’s really important that you get vaccinated. The more people that can get vaccinated, the more we can reduce the amount of activity on the hospital and the more people will recover and stay well.”
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