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Fewer than 20 Covid-19 cases reported in Norfolk in last week, public health boss says

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The number of people who have recently tested positively for coronavirus in West Norfolk has dropped “massively”, the county’s director of public health has said.

Speaking to the Lynn News yesterday, Dr Louise Smith said, across Norfolk as a whole, there have been fewer than 20 Covid-19 cases reported in the last week.

She said: “In King’s Lynn and West Norfolk, the numbers are coming down – they are dropping which is really heartening.”

Dr Louise Smith, director of Norfolk Public Health. (35978505)
Dr Louise Smith, director of Norfolk Public Health. (35978505)

Dr Smith said there had been about 687 cases of coronavirus in West Norfolk since the outbreak, but the numbers of positive cases has “come down very rapidly” in the borough.

“It now looks very much in line with the rest of Norfolk,” she added.

Investigations into data, which showed that the number of cases in West Norfolk was higher than that in other parts of the county, has now provided some possible explanations.

Dr Smith said the infection rate in West Norfolk is about 450 cases per 100,000 people, compared to 245 per 100,000 people for the rest of Norfolk.

“It’s clearly the case that the number of people who have been infected has been higher,” she said.

“As for the number of deaths, I think that is less clear. West Norfolk has had more deaths but we think it’s because there has been more cases. The rate of deaths doesn’t look unusually high.”

Dr Smith said, when the death data is adjusted for the age distribution and deprivation profile of West Norfolk, the rate is below the England average.

She added that, as more testing of healthcare workers has been undertaken in the area, this could also explain why case numbers were high.

“A high proportion of our testing has been on healthcare staff, and because they are such a high risk group, they are likely to be linked to having a high number of positive cases.”

Dr Smith said other possible explanations were explored, including the possibility that there were already more cases in West Norfolk when the country went into lockdown.

“We don’t think that was the case – we think the epidemic hit pretty much the same time as the rest of Norfolk,” she said.

“We also wondered whether there was any evidence that we had been less good at responding – whether we had more outbreaks.

“We can’t be sure but, for example, the number of outbreaks in care homes is average to low, it’s not high – in fact it was lower than we would expect.

“So this has not been driven by outbreaks in care homes which is reassuring.”

Dr Smith added: “We are not finding anything to suggest there are healthcare or social care problems.”

However, she said that there is evidence that the rate of factors such as underlying health problems like diabetes is quite high in the borough, which might contribute to people being more unwell and having a test.

“We have got no evidence that people with things like diabetes are more likely to catch the disease, but we do know they are more likely to be quite unwell with it, and the more unwell you are, the more likely you are to have a test.”

With Norfolk being one of the locations to pilot the test and trace system, Dr Smith said the numbers of people using the system is “in line” with the number of cases.

She urged anyone with symptoms to isolate at home and order a test, either online or by calling 111.

“It’s really important that people do use the system,” Dr Smith added. She said it is confidential, with “no judgement”.

Dr Smith added, with lockdown easing further in recent weeks, people should be “wary” while out and about, and continue to follow national guidelines.

She said people should: if meeting others, do so outdoors; avoid large gatherings; wear face masks in indoor public places; use alcohol gel to sanitise hands; wash your hands when returning home; and avoid touching your face.

"I would very much like to see more people carrying alcohol gel and using it as they go in to shops and wearing a face mask, I know it feels a bit weird but if they do it, they will get used to it," Dr Smith added.

"I think people who have underlying health conditions, particularly those who have been shielding, should be particularly cautious."

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