Lincolnshire health bosses estimate that 80-90% of new coronavirus cases in the county are now a mutant, more infectious strain of COVID.
Figures earlier this week said that by January 8, 59.2% of cases had confirmed the new virus — up from 36% by the end of 2020 — and now county leaders estimate the number to be even higher.
It comes as health chiefs urge government to extend the new asymptomatic testing programme set up in the county over the past two weeks.
Lincolnshire County Council’s director of public health Professor Ward thinks the spike in new variant cases, combined with people not following lockdown rules, are part of the reason the region has “not come down as quickly as I hoped”.
He said that case numbers were coming down, but added that without the government lockdown the numbers would have been higher.
“Whilst the disease itself isn’t any different, the new variant is far more transmissible, so it just means that if we want to keep our figures low, we’re going to have to double down on the hands, face, space message.
“I do wonder whether that’s why we’re not seeing the figures coming down faster because, we were between 250-300 (cases per 100k population) and now we’re probably between 200-250.
“Considering how long we’ve been in various levels of lockdown, it’s not coming down as quickly as I would have hoped.”
Professor Ward believes Lincolnshire won’t “bottom out” in terms of numbers until March time, and doesn’t see the numbers “significantly dropping” in Lincolnshire until a good number of people are vaccinated, or we go into a “much more severe form of lockdown”.
He suggested that if everybody over 70, along with the clinically extremely vulnerable, were vaccinated by the middle of March, that would cover a third of people requiring treatment and that would start to make an impact on overall rates.
He said the recent confirmation that nearly 50,000 people had been vaccinated across the county was “decent”, and added the NHS services across the county had been “doing a great job” in rolling it out. However, he urged more local details to be released.
Call to extend rapid testing
Meanwhile county health bosses are hoping the government will fund an extension to the county’s rapid testing systems.
Professor Ward would like to see the sites in Lincoln and Boston stay in place until the end of February — or even March.
The Sincil Bank testing centre in Lincoln is due to close at the end of this week, with another opening at St Swithin’s Community Centre on Croft Street from January 25 – February 7.
So far the testing sites, including the Peter Payne Sports Centre and Haven High Technology College in Boston, have carried out 3,300 tests in Lincolnshire and found 52 asymptomatic positive cases — a 1.5% positivity rate.
“That’s 52 people who have had COVID, who didn’t know they had and it’s really positive that we were able to help them to isolate.”
Going forward Professor Ward, would like to broaden the number of people who can use the testing sites and the catchment area. He is hoping to hear back from government soon with a decision.