WITH coronavirus cases increasing four-fold in Cheshire East, as 100 confirmed cases were reported in the week up September 12, CEC leaders are keenly re-stressing the same message: It’s a critical time to avoid a second wave, so follow the social distancing and hygiene guidance.

That’s because even a small rise in new cases beyond the current increase presents two major headaches for local authorities.

Testing, testing

In the short-term, the national lack of clarity over testing is having effects in the borough, with residents being sent to sites a considerable distance from the county.

It’s therefore feared that even a small increase in cases would have a dramatic effect on testing availability in Cheshire — with council chiefs now pleading the government for more control over the testing programme.
CEC leader Sam Corcoran said: “We have that experience, but the government decided to employ private firms with little experience of public health. The government decided to do that rather than use local authorities.”

Mr Corcoran also claimed that the employed private firms had ‘struggled to reach 60 percent of the contacts identified’, meaning his staff were left ‘to pick up the pieces’ for those who the firms missed.
NHS Test and Trace data shows that 69.4 percent of ‘identified close contacts’ were reached by the UK-wide system.

With the system being swamped by demand, both the Department for Health and Social Care and CEC are pleading the public to only get a test if someone is showing symptoms — with the council saying: “There has been a huge increase in the number of people seeking a test for coronavirus, partly due to the return of schools and the testing of international travellers. 

“This has put a strain on the laboratories which process the tests.”

It’s worth noting that key workers, frontline health and care staff, and those in an outbreak area, will continue to be tested whether they have symptoms or not.
Currently, the DHSC is working towards being able to deliver 500,000 per day by the end of October — more than double the existing level.

Penny for your thoughts

The other issue for all local authorities is longer-term. Simply put, they have a huge financial hole to plug.

CEC is estimated to lose £50 million of income because of the pandemic, and even with £22 million of emergency government funding, it means CEC faces a forecasted £28 million shortfall for this year.

By law, the council has to pass a balanced budget in the spring — and Cllr Corcoran told the LDRS that how the authority does this is a ‘big question’.

He added: “We have not been fully compensated for the financial impact [by the government] and that is something which we will have to deal with. It is a much harder job than I would like. We are in a difficult position.”

In sum

Throughout 2020, residents have been bombarded with differing messages of what it safe to do. First masks didn’t need to be worn, now they are needed indoors. Up to 30 were allowed to gather, now only six can do so.

But the crucial message coming from both sides of Cheshire’s local authority divide is loud and clear: It really is a critical time if we are to avoid a second wave. Follow the basic guidance, and get tested if you show symptoms.

While that might not be a ground-breaking message for a politician to come out with in the middle of a pandemic, it does reveal a lot about where authorities find themselves — desperately seeking more control, and at the same time trying to devise a plan to ensure the long-term financial health of the council.

All residents are asked to:

  • Keep to the rule of six
  • Wash hands regularly
  • Wear a face covering in places where social distancing may be difficult
  • Social distance by two metres in public

If you have COVID-19 symptoms of high fever, continuous cough and loss of taste or smell, get tested by calling 119 or visit nhs.uk/coronavirus.  If you have a positive test or are alerted by a contact tracer, play your part to protect your community by self-isolating for 10 days or 14 days.