Watchlist a ‘warning sign’, say health chiefs for Lowestoft and Waveney

Stuart Keeble, director of public health for Suffolk Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL

Stuart Keeble, director of public health for Suffolk Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL - Credit: Archant

Being placed on a regional watchlist should serve as a “warning sign” to communities across east Suffolk after a steep rise in coronavirus cases, the county’s director of public health has said.

The district was placed on the watchlist on Thursday night after 46 positive tests in the week before.

Although being placed on the watchlist will not mean further restrictions at this stage, it does mean an increased monitoring of cases and potentially additional steps in the future if infection rates do not start to fall.

Stuart Keeble, director of public health for Suffolk, said: “We have seen the rates in east Suffolk creep up.

“If we just looked from a national perspective then we could sit back and not do anything, but I don’t want, and I don’t think the people of Suffolk want, us to get to those levels.

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“The gradient is quite steep and about two or three weeks ago the average rate for Suffolk was in single digits so the numbers are increasing.

“People need to know when to take action and now is more important than ever to stop us getting to the place where other parts of the country are.

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“This is a warning sign and we need to be paying attention. It is not about the watchlist, just the direction of travel and the levels we have reached.”

The district has recorded 30.9 cases per 100,000 people, lower than the average for across the east of England, with 41.1 cases per 100,000, and the country as a whole, with 108.7 cases per 100,000, but Mr Keeble warns it is “more prudent to take this approach.”

He said: “We don’t have any areas with a major hotspot in one small area. Generally it is an increase across the board.

“We are mindful of the Bernard Matthews outbreak but that is not all of east Suffolk’s figures. We are also seeing a wider number of cases in households and that starts to add up.

“It is not about a specific town and we don’t need to lock down one place, but everyone needs to be taking action.

“We haven’t hit these heights before and we need to be paying attention now and sticking to the measures we have been talking about.

“We are trying to hunt down the virus and doing almost detective work in the background to find what actions we need to take on top of that.”

Should cases continue to rise, the district could be added to a national watchlist, with tougher measures imposed.

Mr Keeble said: “As part of this response we are going to go out with a community intervention team to start talking to people on the streets because I recognise they aren’t going to read all the messages and we need to make the message as broad as possible.

“Our rates are still a lot lower and everywhere in the country is increasing, but if we continue to rise we could be put on a national watchlist and a discussion will happen about what measures that will mean.

“That is a long way away yet and there is a lot more that we can do working with people in Suffolk.

“We need to keep our distance and think about if we need to be mixing with all of the people we are mixing with.

“As human beings we are connected creatures - I want to hug my parents and I haven’t since lockdown but we have got the next six months to get through winter and we need to put the stop in place now to break that transmission and allow us to continue doing the things we want to do in Suffolk.

“If cases fall the message is still there and we need to keep on it. If cases go down we cannot afford to take our foot off the pedal and give ourselves a pat on the back.”

Public Health Suffolk urged anyone experiencing any of the recognised Covid-19 symptoms - a high temperature, new, continuous cough or a loss or change in your sense of smell or taste - to book a test and immediately begin self-isolating.

Waveney MP Peter Aldous said: “Following the cases that have arisen at primary schools and at Bernard Matthews, it was clear we were seeing an increase in infections and that is what the stats have borne out.

“It is from a relatively low base line, but the increase does emphasis we must not let down our guard and we must stay extremely vigilant.

“People in Waveney have been incredibly patient and very responsible up to now but we have to keep doing what we are doing - keeping our distance, washing our hands, and wearing face coverings in shops.”

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