An Update On The Rapidly Increased COVID-19 Transmission Rates In Corby Over Recent Days And The Steps Being Taken To Address It
Over recent days, many local people have been in touch with me raising their concerns in relation to the rapidly growing COVID-19 case rates that we are seeing in our community, and particularly in Corby at the moment, with specific concerns being raised around employment sites and whether they are playing a disproportionate role in this. I can entirely understand and appreciate the anxiety and worry that this situation is causing locally - the new variant of the virus is clearly extremely contagious, with our case rates much higher relative to earlier points in the pandemic, and nobody should underestimate the grave threat and pressure that our local hospitals are presently facing.
Naturally, I began raising these concerns officially last week as the situation evolved, but before I detail some of the steps I have taken and the measures that are being put in place to address local concerns, I just wanted to set the situation out in some context.
Case rates in Corby have more than doubled in the seven days up to the 6thJanuary (from 473.6 to 951.3 cases per 100,000 population as a rolling seven day average) and test positivity for the last seven days (% of tests resulting in a confirmed COVID case) is now 19.2 in Corby – which is above the East Midlands and England level, which are 14.1 and 16.8 respectively.
Importantly, the data at this stage indicates that community transmission continues to be the main issue in Corby - with nearly all cases identified locally due to transmission within and between households. So people really must adhere to the ‘lockdown’ restrictions to protect each other and local health and care services, which are undeniably under strain.
On local concerns relating to workplace transmission within manufacturing businesses specifically, clearly, it is imperative that all workplaces that are open act in accordance with the ‘COVID Secure’ guidelines, regardless of whether they are deemed essential or non-essential businesses. Of course, if they cannot operate safely and within those guidelines, they should be closed. You can also find the official list of businesses which must currently be closed under the ‘lockdown’ here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/national-lockdown-stay-at-home#businesses-and-venues. Equally, if people can work from home, they really must.
I also wrote formally to the Secretary of State for Health & Social Care, and to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, about this matter. Locally, public health leaders, who I have also formally raised these concerns with, believe, for the reasons I have already set out, that the vast majority of transmission is as a result of household interaction at this stage, with only two outbreaks in workplaces at the moment, and much greater numbers of household clusters being reported. However, given the concern, I have been keen that further investigation takes place to identify whether there is a correlation or trend developing, so that further infection control steps can be considered locally, should that be required, utilising the existing package of Government support to assist any affected businesses. I reiterated this on BBC regional television over the weekend too.
But I don’t want to leave people with the wrong impression here - and I just want to say that in my experience, the vast majority of our local employers are exceptionally responsible and have, throughout this pandemic, acted entirely within the letter and the spirit of the restrictions and adhered to the requirements of the ‘COVID Secure’ guidelines, with their employees at the uppermost of their thinking. I thank them for everything they have, and continue to do, to keep their staff safe at what has been an impossibly tough time for everyone and this is in no way any criticism of them.
However, it is rightly for the local authorities to investigate complaints regarding allegations of non-compliance, but they also have an important role to play in working closely with businesses to educate, inform and help make improvements to working practices where required to keep people safe. Formal enforcement action should always be a last resort, but I have been raising individual concerns brought to me with the COVID-19 Response Team for Northamptonshire, who I know investigate any concerns accordingly as part of this important work. I’ve no doubt that they will continue to work with businesses to take any necessary steps arising as a result.
I also had further official discussions yesterday on the current situation, involving Government officials and public health representatives locally - who I just want to add are doing an incredible job in very difficult circumstances - to discuss this all further following on from my initial conversations with them, and with Ministers, which has no doubt subsequently prompted this further welcome dialogue. The Leader of Corby Borough Council, Councillor Tom Beattie, was also involved in this discussion, who has rightly been raising similar concerns on behalf of residents.
But it isn’t all just dialogue - the good news is that some concrete action is being taken too, including:
- Communications and compliance checks are to be stepped up, by both the Police and Environmental Health, to ensure people are aware of the risk and current restrictions;
- The Cabinet Office are tasking a national team to investigate what is happening around manufacturing sites in Corby to understand what more needs to be done in terms of national policy in the current climate. In fact, I understand that this is what happened earlier in the pandemic when that team investigated the Greencore outbreak in Northampton and national policy was then improved in light of that experience to better support affected businesses financially and with practical help to operate more safely if carrying out ‘essential’ work;
- Lateral Flow Device testing (used to identify those who are infectious but do not have any symptoms) is being rolled out across the county over the next few weeks. This is exactly the type of test used by frontline health and social care workers to reduce risk in clinical settings. The roll out will be escalated in Corby and will include:
- Larger high risk workplace settings, including distribution and production/manufacturing sites, starting imminently.
- A community testing centre which will operate a booking system for local residents, which I understand will be established very soon, and I will be sure to share further updates as I have them.
These are clearly all welcome steps. Residents can therefore be assured that I will continue to monitor the situation closely and provide further updates as I have them, but it is right that the statutory authorities are allowed the space they need to investigate and act as they see appropriate, in accordance with the national regulations, and making improvements and boosting capacity where they can to give people confidence locally that everything possible is being done to keep them and their loved ones safe. But of course, there is also an undeniable onus on us all in that regard. People must therefore continue to exercise caution, adhere to the rules and maintain the ‘hands, face, space’ approach to further reduce the risk to themselves and to those we care about most. We really do have a duty to one another and a personal responsibility to do what we can as part of the wider collective effort.