What are the Covid rates in Suffolk — and could Christmas be affected?
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
Fears have been raised of potential Covid restrictions at Christmas as infection rates continue to rise in Suffolk and elsewhere in England.
What is the situation here in Suffolk?
The Covid infection rate in Suffolk is higher than the peak of the pandemic back in January — but the number of people in hospital remains comparatively low.
Data for the week up to October 19 has revealed the county's seven-day rate was 558.7 cases per 100,000 people after 4,253 new infections were reported.
This was higher than the 539.4 cases per 100,000 people at the start of January.
Ipswich's Covid rate was, at one point last week, the highest in England at 854.5 cases per 100,000 people.
The number of people being treated for coronavirus at Suffolk's hospitals has risen in recent weeks, but remain far below the figures reported at the start of the year.
At East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT), which manages Ipswich and Colchester hospitals, there were 64 Covid patients on October 19 — an increase from 39 the week before.
West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds reported an increase from 16 patients to 24 in the same timeframe.
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But these figures are much lower than the peak number of January 18, when there were more than 700 patients being treated between ESNEFT and West Suffolk Hospital.
Could restrictions be brought back in the winter?
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has dismissed suggestions about the possibility of a winter lockdown, saying there is "absolutely nothing to indicate that that is on the cards at all".
Health Secretary Sajid Javid was similarly defiant as he said he expects Christmas to be "normal" this year.
Families will be desperate to avoid a situation similar to last year, when Covid restrictions were brought in just days before Christmas.
But Covid rates are on the rise — with an average of 40,000 daily new infections reported in the UK in the last week.
A number of health figures, including the NHS Confederation, have warned the UK risks a winter crisis if Covid measures are not introduced now.
What is Plan B?
The government outlined its 'Plan B' for winter last month, with mask-wearing, working from home guidance and vaccine passports among the measures that could be introduced in a bid to reduce infection rates.
The plan is designed to protect the NHS from "unsustainable pressure" – though there is no agreed definition of what that means.
How many cases are too many?
Mr Javid has warned cases could hit 100,000 per day over the winter.
For now, deaths are nowhere near the peak of January and are averaging around 136 per day.
But the possible impact of an increase in seasonal flu hospital admissions, the usual winter trips and falls and the lengthy backlog for treatment could also play a factor in the government's decision-making.
Dr Nick Scriven, former president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: "Areas of the NHS are currently experiencing conditions outside of anyone’s experience and this comes hot on the heels of two years of unrelenting pressure."
How are pubs feeling about the situation?
Andy Wood, chief executive of Suffolk brewer Adnams, said the company was "planning for the worst, but hoping for the best".
He added: "Another lockdown would be very damaging for the economy and particularly the hospitality sector. It's not a place we want to go.
"We would rather things such as mask-wearing would be introduced before any kind of lockdown.
"When we first locked down last March, 80% of our sales vaporised overnight. There's no reason to believe it wouldn't be any different this time — it would be catastrophic."