Preston now has fourth-highest Covid case rate in the country
Preston's coronavirus case rate has reached the highest level since lockdown restrictions began to be significantly lifted more than three months ago.
Data from Public Health England shows that in the seven days to 5th September, 66.4 people per 100,000 of the population in the city council area tested positive for Covid-19 - the fourth-highest rate in the country over that timeframe and the highest anywhere in Lancashire.
Ninety-five positive cases were identified during the same period.
The last time the case rate figure was higher was back on 31st May - the day before people were first allowed to meet in each other's gardens and weeks before non-essential shops had reopened and schools in the city had started to readmit selected pupils.
Meanwhile, the proportion of people in Preston who tested positive for coronavirus in the space of a week has also hit a new high.
Of all residents who received a test in the seven days to 3rd September, 5.3 percent were found to have Covid-19, according to Preston City Council.
That is an increase from just under three percent on a rolling seven-day timeframe during late August - and double the current England average of 2.3 percent.
Preston City Council's chief executive, Adrian Phillips, said it was in the "collective hands" of residents to drive the "alarming" numbers back down.
The case rate is the main measure used by the government to judge whether an area should be put in local lockdown. Preston's stood at 44 when restrictions on household mixing were introduced in the city back on 8th August - a move which initially appeared to spark an encouraging decline, with the rate falling as low as 19 less just over a fortnight ago.
Mr. Phillips called on Prestonians to redouble their efforts to follow the ongoing rules within the city council area, which ban people from meeting those from other households in homes, gardens and indoor public spaces.
Speaking just before the latest case rate was published, he had a stark message for young and old in the city.
"We are still seeing most cases in younger people - they are clearly spreading it significantly and we believe it is only a matter of time before we see the elderly and vulnerable requiring hospital attention.
"The only way we can ensure that it doesn't happen is to follow those really important messages - social distancing and hand hygiene are still vital, as well as wearing face coverings.
"It's the duty of everybody to make sure we contain the virus as much as possible, because it is still incredibly active.
"Individuals need to stop bending the rules - so don't have parties or gatherings in houses. It means taking precautions, like young people not sharing taxis when they go out.
"These things might not be popular - and we don't want to take the fun out of people's lives. We want people to be able to visit their relatives, but we want them to be able to do these things safely," Mr. Phillips said.
The Lancashire Post understands that the number of inpatients with coronavirus at the Royal Preston Hospital remains at a low level. But fears are now being expressed at a local and national level that the case rate rises seen in several areas of Lancashire and across the country will eventually lead to more hospitalisations and even deaths.
The test positive rate is regarded as the most accurate indication of the prevalence of the virus in areas where testing has increased, as it has in Preston. Locals are still being encouraged to get a Covid-19 test - even if they do not have symptoms - so that they can self-isolate if they are found to be carrying the virus.
Two pop-up test centres in the city are understood to have had their busiest 48 hours since they first opened.
Mr. Phillips added that the city wanted to avoid the kind of fuller lockdown imposed in Bolton on Tuesday, where the hospitality sector has now been forced to return to a takeaway-only service and household mixing in all areas is banned. Bolton's case rate is 128 per 100,000 people - the highest in the country.
"The government's intervention in Bolton needs to be a warning for all of us that ministers will bring in significant measures for areas with higher rates - and we absolutely do not want that for Preston.
"The biggest risk factor is social interaction - and that may often be in people's homes. The Bolton restrictions are enormously significant and people need to think about the impact they would have on their friends and family in terms of jobs and the economy [if they were to be applied in Preston]," Mr. Phillips warned.
At a meeting of Lancashire's health and wellbeing board on Tuesday, Gary Hall, deputy chair of the Lancashire Resilience Forum - the umbrella group of organisations leading the county's Covid response - said he expected a "refocus on protecting the vulnerable" across Lancashire as winter approached.
"We're in a place where behaviour has changed - we all see that on a regular basis. Inevitably [that means] the virus is going to spread - it's now about how we manage through that process.
"We are in a better place [than at the start of the pandemic] - and the majority of people are following the guidance.
"But we can't stop this thing and we're going to have to manage through it. The key thing now is the winter preparation," Mr. Hall added.
HOW TO GET A TEST
People living in the Preston City Council area who do not have coronavirus symptoms are still being encouraged to get themselves tested at one of two dedicated sites set up for that purpose.
A facility at the Issa Medical Centre off is open from from 10am until 3pm, seven days a week.
A testing station is also open at Preston Markets, under the canpoy off Lancaster Road, Monday to Saturday, between 10am and 3pm.
Anybody with Covid symptoms should call 119 and book an appointment for a test at a drive-through facility.
CROSS-PARTY CALL FOR HELP TO COMABT PRESTON's COVID RISE
Labour leader of Preston City Council, Cllr Matthew Brown said:
“The sudden increase in cases in the city is extremely worrying. We must work together to protect our residents and communities against further spread of this virus. The evidence-based advice from the director of public health, Dr Sakthi Karunanithi, is clear and we continue to follow his lead to keep our communities safe.
"It has been an extremely difficult time for all of us, but we cannot afford to become apathetic. Coronavirus is still here and we all have a role to play.
"Please take the restrictions seriously and follow them – don’t be the one to pass it on to your loved ones.”
Leader of the Conservative group, Cllr Sue Whittam, said,
“The advice from the director of public Health is clear – we are all a part of the solution to stop the spread of coronavirus.
"The effects of this virus have been devastating, but it is not over yet. We all need to continue to follow the government guidance and restrictions – wearing masks, washing hands, keeping distance from each other and not mixing households.
"Please work with us and help stop the virus from spreading any further.”
Liberal Democrat group leader, Cllr John Potter said:
“We need to take the situation very seriously because the virus is continuing to spread through our communities. This is not something that happens to other people – it is happening everywhere, indiscriminately.
"I have personally seen the devastating consequences of this virus and cannot emphasise enough how important it is for all of us to follow the restrictions that have been put in place to protect us and don’t pass it on.”