Just as it looked like the rates of infection in Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin were slowing a little, they are now soaring up. Cases of Covid-19 are growing by around 70% a week in Shropshire and 75% in Telford. That’s much higher than in England as a whole, where rates are increasing by around 30% a week. The growth in infection is among children of school age and young adults.
No area of Shropshire or Telford is now free of Covid-19. That includes south west Shropshire where rates have gone from zero at the beginning of June to 102 per 100,000 people in the week to 11 July.
Tomorrow, Freedom Day, has been called a gamble. It is certainly beginning to look like a gamble that could backfire. They should support shopworkers by keeping the wearing of face masks compulsory in indoor retail outlets and make mask wearing compulsory on public transport.
Currently, England has an infection rate of around 384 cases per 100,000 people. The rate in Shropshire is lower at 350 but Telford is higher at 489.
Infection rates are not yet at the levels seen in early January at the peak of the second wave but they are increasing rapidly in most areas. South west Shropshire has always had lower rates than the rest of the county but rates are also picking up here, except in Ludlow where they have thankfully been falling. (Update: rates in Ludlow have increased since publishing this article.)
Vaccines do not give 100% protection. Not everyone can be vaccinated due to pre-existing health conditions. Many younger people are not yet vaccinated. With the loosening of restrictions and loosening of compliance with restrictions, infections rates are growing fastest among people under 60. However, in the seven days to 12 July there were 52 positive Covid-19 tests among people aged 60 years or over in Shropshire and 21 in Telford & Wrekin.
There are concerns about the Beta variant (formerly known as the South African variant. Beta is not as transmissible as Delta, which is currently the main strain, but there is some evidence that it is better at evading the immune response generated by the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. That has led to an unpopular last minute crackdown on travellers from France who must now self-isolate.
There are no longer any areas of Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin that are clear of Covid-19. The highest rates in Shropshire are 668.7 per 100,000 people in Cosford and Albrighton, and 393.8 in nearby Shifnal. The highest infection rate in Telford is 448.8 in the Priorslee area.
The latest statistics come at a point where the NHS track and trace system is becoming discredited. In the week to 7 July, 530,126 alerts were sent telling people to self-isolate, a 46% rise on the previous week. In Covid terms that’s old data with cases increasing across the UK at more than 20% a week. There are warnings of staff shortages in retail, hospitality and manufacturing, where some businesses may need to reduce shifts. NHS leaders have warned that mass isolation of staff is harming patient care. Even councillors get pinged, in my case for the sin of travelling on a train on which everyone was masked.
There is also concern that entire school bubbles need to isolate if just one pupil or staff member tests positive. Last week, there were 6,000 schoolchildren self-isolating in Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin.
With most infections occurring among younger people, the hospitalisation rate is much lower than the second wave, as is the number of deaths. But we are not out of the epidemic yet. The health secretary Sajid Javid, who has just tested positive for Covid-19, and Boris Johnson who may or not be immune after his earlier bout of Covid-19, are taking a huge risk. At the very least they could support shopworkers by keeping the wearing of face masks compulsory in indoor retail outlets and make mask wearing compulsory on public transport.