IT’S clear that concern over the re-emergence of coronavirus across the UK has accelerated in the past week.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson took to the nation’s televisions to outline new national restrictions, such as the 10pm-5am night time economy curfew, and also pleaded with Britons to follow the existing guidance to slow the spread of the disease.

Of course, the situation in the North West is even more bleak. In the latest round of infection rate data, as of September 23, nine of the ten worst boroughs in the UK were in our region.

In Cheshire East, 35.4 cases per 100,000 people were recorded — up from 23.2 the previous week. It’s worth noting, however, that CEC has the lowest infection rate of any borough in the Cheshire and Merseyside public health area.

That being said, the new NHS Test and Trace app has finally launched after months of delays, and the borough is adding testing capacity in the coming weeks — so what’s the exact situation moving forward?

What’s the testing situation?

Nationally, the Department for Health is working towards being able to deliver 500,000 tests a day by the end of October — a tall order given that the current daily testing capacity is estimated to be 258,000.

As mentioned, the NHS Covid-19 app is being rolled out across the country, with CEC asking residents to download it, saying the ‘app offers a QR code check-in capability, allows users to book a free test, and has an isolation countdown timer to remind people to quarantine’, thus making it easier to identify those with the virus and quell the spread of Covid.

Alongside this, it was announced this week that the first testing site will open in Cheshire East on October 1.

The Crewe facility will accept pre-booked walk-through patients only, with Dr Matt Tyrer, acting director of public health for Cheshire East Council, saying: “We have been working very closely with colleagues in the NHS in Cheshire and Merseyside and the Department for Health and Social Care to ensure that we have the most accessible testing facilities for the people of Cheshire East, when and where they need them.”

While CEC welcomes the additional capacity, it’s still pushing for more control from the government on a testing front, with Dr Tyrer telling the council’s Health and Wellbeing Board this week that regional testing teams have worked alongside NHS tracers ‘proactively, so that we can say “there might be something here”, we will get additional tests on the ground’.

The crux of a lot of gripes on testing is just how many residents the UK-wide system misses, with 31 percent of all close contacts of those with a positive test in Cheshire East not being reached by the national contact tracers.

That’s compared to a UK average of 74 percent of close contacts being informed, so the borough lags behind in that regard.

These missed contacts are then passed on to the local test and trace teams after 24 hours, which increases the likelihood of residents coming into contact with someone who has the virus.

Time delays are further exacerbated by the fact that currently just 28 per cent of people who get a test receive their results within 24 hours.


So will Cheshire East go into lockdown?

In order to be locked down, there are two basic ways to go about it: Firstly, government can impose restrictions on a region, as they did with Greater Manchester in July. Secondly, a local authority can ask for restrictions to be used if it feels its existing powers aren’t enough to keep the public safe.

CEC declined to comment when asked by the Guardian if it would ask the government to be placed under a local lockdown, although neighbouring Cheshire West — with a slightly higher infection rate of 41.7 cases per 100,000 — has confirmed it has ‘no plans’ to do so.

Instead, CEC officials are emphasising again the importance following the guidance. Residents are being asked to keep to the rule of six, wash their hands regularly, wear a face covering in places where social distancing may be difficult, and social distance by two metres in public.

Summing up

As case numbers rise across the north west and restrictions tighten, it’s easy to feel that there inevitably will be further regulations at the very least - or a full-blown lockdown on the horizon.

And for the moment, we do not know if a local, let alone national, lockdown will be implemented in Cheshire East. We do know that leaders are desperate for more testing control, and that everybody should be following the Covid guidance.