Preston likely to be under new Covid restrictions 'within days' if case rate does not improve
It is likely to be a matter of “days not weeks” before Preston faces similar restrictions to those imposed in East Lancashire – if the city’s increasing Covid infection rate does not rapidly go into reverse.
That was the stark warning from Lancashire’s director of public health, Dr. Sakthi Karunanithi, as Preston entered the top ten areas of the country with the highest weekly case rates of coronavirus.
In the seven days up to 30th July, there were 34.6 positive tests per 100,000 people in the city – more than two and a half times the 13.4 recorded just a week earlier, according to Press Association analysis of Public Health England data.
Preston has moved from 50th out of more than 350 local authority areas ranked by that measure in mid-June up to tenth.
It now stands above Burnley (23rd) and Hyndburn (34th) – both of which are subject to the newly-imposed restrictions in the east of the county, which mean households can no longer mix in most private and public settings – except where they have already formed a support bubble. The city is just one place behind Pendle, while Blackburn-with Darwen is still at the top of the case rate table, with 79.9 infections per 100,000 residents.
Dr. Karunanithi said that, outside of the zone where restrictions are already in place, Preston is now his next “area of concern”.
“The number of cases is Preston is higher than we would expect – the test positivity is increasing and is now around 3.4 percent, which puts it into a much more concerning category.
“If the rates don’t change in favour of Preston, there is no doubt that restrictions will be implemented.
“If the current pattern continues, then I would not be surprised if similar measures to those in East Lancashire are brought in within a matter of days. There is a weekly review led nationally by the Secretary of State,” Dr. Karunanithi said.
He also called on the hospitality sector in the city to ensure that it was complying with “the spirit” of the rules on ensuring that venues are Covid secure. Without naming any individual establishments, Dr. Karunanithi said that there may need to be a tightening of the regulations governing the type of venues which can open.
On Saturday, Switch nightclub in Preston was given eleventh-hour permission to open after “repurposing” as a bar, following a delay to previous government plans for live music venues to be allowed to reopen from the beginning of August.
Preston City Council had initially said that the venue would not be allowed to reopen, but the club sought legal advice which successfully challenged that ruling.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if the government wants to plug that potential gap in the [legislation] about the remit of local councils to [make those decisions],” Dr. Karunanithi said.
“It’s important that the business sector really plays their part in following the guidance and the legislation in spirit to help avoid the spread of the virus.”
It is thought that household transmission – together with some care home outbreaks – is largely responsible for the increasing rate within the city.
Dr. Karunanithi called on Prestonians to follow the rules which are mandatory in East Lancashire – but not yet so in Preston.
“Avoid going to each other’s houses and meeting people in the garden and avoid overcrowding wherever possible – we need to be very cautious and remind ourselves that we are still living with this virus.”
He said that people who had been shielding until the government ‘paused’ the practice last weekend, should be particularly careful in Preston if they do venture out.
“Maintain social distance, wash your hands and avoid crowded places – and that is good advice for everyone. We must remain cautious with an increasing level of infection in our communities,” Dr, Karunanithi added.
The Post understands that the increased case rate has not yet resulted in any rise in admissions at the Royal Preston, where Covid patient numbers are in single figures.
Last Friday, Preston City Council asked residents to be more vigilant to help avert the need for any lockdown measures to be reintroduced by not having visitors to their homes, wearing a face covering in enclosed public spaces – including places of worship - and getting a test in the event of Covid symptoms, even if they are mild.
The suggestions were in addition to the standard messages about regularly washing and sanitising hands and giving each other enough space to social distance.
RESTRICTIONS CURRENTLY IN PLACE IN EAST LANCASHIRE
These are the rules in force in the East of the county, which Dr Karunainthi would like everybody in Preston to follow now – and which could be coming to the city in any case if the Covid case rate does not improve.
You should not:
***meet people you do not live with inside a private home or garden, except where you have formed a support bubble (or for other limited exemptions to be specified in law)
***visit someone else’s home or garden even if they live outside of the affected areas
***socialise with people you do not live with in other indoor public venues – such as pubs, restaurants, cafes, shops, places of worship, community centres, leisure and entertainment venues, or visitor attractions. You may attend these venues with people you live with (or are in a support bubble with), but should avoid interaction with individuals or groups from other households. If you run such a business or organise events on their premises, you should take steps to ensure people do not interact with people they do not live with, in line with COVID-19 secure guidance
***visit friends or family in care homes, other than in exceptional circumstances. Care homes should restrict visits to these circumstances.
Where people from single adult households (people who live alone or single parents with dependent children aged under 18) have formed a support bubble with another household, they can continue to visit each other, stay overnight, and visit other public places as if they were one household.In line with the national guidance, you can continue to meet in public outdoor spaces in groups of no more than 6 people, unless the group includes only people from 2 households. You cannot meet people you do not live with within a private garden.
At all times, you should socially distance from people you do not live with – unless they are in your support bubble.
STATEMENT FROM SWITCH NIGHTCLUB
“Switch took legal advice from Malcolm Ireland (Napthens) and Leo Charalambides (Kings Chamber) who worked hard over the Friday and Saturday morning, and confirmed that SWITCH could open lawfully on Saturday 1st August 2020.
“That afternoon, Preston City Council (PCC) emailed Switch and our legal team stating ‘We have been counselled that the advice we received from the government was incorrect. Premises such as nightclubs should be able to repurpose their venues to enable them to reopen safely therefore - so long as Switch reopens following the advice that was agreed between the managing director and PCC via e-mail on 30/7/20, the Council will not seek to close the venue.’”
“Switch and its managing director received two visits from PCC and Lancashire Constabulary that evening, both visits included some changes to operations which were implemented immediately. PCC confirmed they were happy with both visits.”
STATEMENT FROM PRESTON CITY COUNCIL
Cllr Peter Moss, cabinet member for planning and regulations said, "The situation with Switch re-opening this weekend brought us a lot of attention and we would like to provide further information.
Having received further guidance from the government's Office for Product Safety and Standards on Friday, we informed the operator of Switch that they would no longer be able to reopen on 1st August.
Lawyers acting on behalf of the operators challenged this position on the basis that the venue was repurposing as a seated bar, which are legally allowed to open under the current Regulations.
The council sought legal advice from a highly experienced barrister. It was determined that the operator of Switch was legally able to repurpose and open as a bar, provided they followed strict safety precautions, including not providing a space for dancing.
During the evening of 1st August, our enforcement officers made two separate visits to the venue – each time working with the operator to make necessary changes. We are aware of the videos that are circulating on social media and officers will investigate the situation," Cllr Moss added.
Those videos apparently show people singing and dancing on the dancefloor, but the club says that they were filmed at angle which is "very misleading and does not show a true picture of what the experience was like inside Switch on Saturday".