'I must tell you that the latest figures are concerning - release from lockdown is not yet a done deal'

Lucy Wightman, director of health in NorthamptonshireLucy Wightman, director of health in Northamptonshire
Lucy Wightman, director of health in Northamptonshire
Column: Director of health in Northamptonshire says rise in case rates in Corby continue to keep her awake at night'

It was an emotional sixty seconds of silence as residents in Northamptonshire and across the nation stopped for a minute to reflect on Tuesday.

One year ago, on 23rd March, our Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that we were to go from liberty to lockdown in a dramatic bid to stop the spread of COVID-19. It was a moment we will never forget. In the absence of a vaccine, the restriction of movement was a remedy he hoped would work. To a large degree it did, but such restrictions could not be maintained. Although sadly many of our loved ones have died, many lives were saved and are continuing to be saved during what is now our third time in lockdown.

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We have lived through tough restrictions on socialising, closures of schools, pubs and shops with many rules currently still in place. I don’t think anybody this time last year thought this would last more than a few weeks. It has been a year which has put pressure on all essential services, extended families, relationships and friendships. One year on we have more variants and more challenges ahead but, thank goodness, more light at the end of the tunnel. We now thankfully have a vaccine but people do remain at risk and we must continue to follow the guidance and adhere to the rules. Next week, all things being well, certain outdoor organised activities will return and we can meet up to five other people outdoors. March 29th will mark the end of the ‘stay at home’ rule, for now at least, and hopefully we are on track for the roadmap back to the freedoms we all once enjoyed.

It is with a heavy heart however that I must tell you that the latest figures are concerning - so release from lockdown is not yet a done deal. Corby’s case rates continue to keep me awake at night, not just with positive cases emerging with children back at school (which we expected), but more recently case increases amongst the over 60s. We are still in lockdown, and the figures until recently have reflected this, but it would appear that in the last two weeks, the most recent publicly available numbers are showing a spike. Only we can change this trajectory and the only way we can do this is to practice COVID-secure behaviours when we venture out for work, school, essential shopping or exercise. Those with access to rapid testing must complete this regularly to help us identify positive cases, isolate as required and reduce the risk of further increases in rates locally that may otherwise further set our progress back. I can’t stress enough how important the rapid tests are in controlling the spread of the virus. Without them we are simply battling in the dark and at the mercy of the virus. We are not seeing as many people come forward for testing, rapid and PCR, as we would want but I want to remind you again that this is how we overcame the issues before in the Greencore UK outbreak in Northampton and this is how we will push down case rates again. Please get tested with either a rapid flow test or if you are showing symptoms, then have a PCR test immediately.

The other way to tackle this is to get the jab when the call comes. If you receive an invite to get your jab, then please honour the appointment. Vaccinations are precious - let’s not waste them. Also, please rest assured that the vaccine is safe. Both the World Health Organisation and the UK medicines regulator (MHRA) have made it clear that they have no concerns given the current available evidence. I have had my first dose along with other essential healthcare workers, but remain vigilant and stick to the rules. I do not want to be part of the reason for us not emerging from lockdown when the chance comes!

Remember, that you may only leave the house for limited reasons permitted in law and mixing indoors with individuals other than household members or those in your care bubble is not allowed. Even when outdoors please leave the two metre safe distance and adhere to the mantra: Hands, Face, Space.

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As we paused on Tuesday to pay tribute to the lost lives of 1,374 across our county - loved ones, friends and colleagues - we also reflected on the opportunities we have ahead. Although we have entered a second year of restrictions, there is at least hope that life will soon get better and we must recognise how fortunate we are to be well enough to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The difference this time is that we understand our enemy, we know exactly how to break the chain of infection and have the tools at our disposal to do so. It really is within our gift to beat this. Us, only us, can make this happen.