Number 10 to send national taskforce to tackle Corby's alarmingly rapid rise in Covid cases
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A national taskforce has been mobilised to Corby to investigate the surge in Covid cases with the number of cases across the borough expecting to reach more than 3,000 today (Thursday).
Politicians in the town had alerted the Government to local concerns at the fast growing rise in positive tests after Corby's weekly rate jump was the highest in the country.
Northamptonshire Director of Public Health Lucy Wightman had stated last week that she believed Corby’s tight-knit community had led to a spike in Covid transmissions.
MP for Corby and East Northants Tom Pursglove had written to Business Secretary Alok Sharma and Health Secretary Matt Hancock to pass on wider concerns from residents about the number of businesses in the town that have decided to stay open despite their workers not being critical to coronavirus efforts.
Welcoming the 'concrete' action Mr Pursglove said: "The Cabinet Office are tasking a national team to investigate what is happening around manufacturing sites in Corby to understand what more needs to be done in terms of national policy in the current climate.
"In fact, I understand that this is what happened earlier in the pandemic when that team investigated the Greencore outbreak in Northampton and national policy was then improved in light of that experience to better support affected businesses financially and with practical help to operate more safely if carrying out ‘essential’ work.
"Lateral Flow Device testing (used to identify those who are infectious but do not have any symptoms) is being rolled out across the county over the next few weeks.
"This is exactly the type of test used by frontline health and social care workers to reduce risk in clinical settings.
"The roll out will be escalated in Corby and will include larger high risk workplace settings, including distribution and production/manufacturing sites, starting imminently.
"A community testing centre which will operate a booking system for local residents, which I understand will be established very soon, and I will be sure to share further updates as I have them."
Many people have voiced their concerns about workplace transmissions with Corby council leader Tom Beattie writing to the Prime Minster to express his alarm at the situation in the town and to ask the government to close all non-essential factories.
Mr Pursglove said: "On local concerns relating to workplace transmission within manufacturing businesses specifically, clearly, it is imperative that all workplaces that are open act in accordance with the ‘Covid Secure’ guidelines, regardless of whether they are deemed essential or non-essential businesses.
"Of course, if they cannot operate safely and within those guidelines, they should be closed."
Case rates in Corby had more than doubled in the seven days up to January 6 - from 473.6 to 951.3 cases per 100,000 population as a rolling seven day average.
The MP has called for further investigation to identify any trends so infection control steps can be made locally with support from the Government for affected businesses.
He added: "In my experience, the vast majority of our local employers are exceptionally responsible and have, throughout this pandemic, acted entirely within the letter and the spirit of the restrictions and adhered to the requirements of the ‘Covid Secure’ guidelines, with their employees at the uppermost of their thinking."
Workers at one local logistics hub, where there have been 15 confirmed cases of Covid 19, have voiced their concerns at the number of cases.
iForce employees who wanted to remain anonymous have spoken about their time working at the Geddington Road site in the run-up to Christmas.
One said: "We all went in and out of those offices and shared the kitchen and open lunch area. I informed everyone that I had to have a covid test and that apparently sent the office in a frenzy. We were constantly getting texts to say someone had Covid."
Another said: "I would not go back due to the lack of supervision for Covid, I was not paid for one of my shifts because of not wanting to work in the conditions that would make me exposed to Covid without following procedures properly people were not told to wear PPE or to socially distance, people would also believe they could touch you and not wash hands or sanitise while packing hampers for people's Christmas presents as well as not having correct facilities to be able to work safely. "
A third said: "I recently worked there for Logistics People but in the same building as iForce as they are linked and the office is just as bad. There was only some hand sanitiser regarding Covid 19.
"There was no social distancing, no bubbles, no safeguarding, everyone was sat together and would sit at lunch together, no masks unless you were in reception but as soon as you were upstairs those were taken off."
The firm has been bussing in London workers who have been staying at The Holiday Inn.
One hotel worker said: "Some of them mix and some of them keep themselves to themselves. It is room service only in all of the hotels at the moment so they have to eat in their own rooms but they are going in and out of each other’s rooms. They are also making friends with Corby workers and going to their houses or trying to get them into the hotels."
An iForce spokesman had said: "Consistent with our last statement, iForce can confirm we have a small number of colleagues who have tested positive for Covid-19 (not all of which were working at the time).
"We have 15 confirmed cases across both locations and a further 18 colleagues whom are self-isolating as a result of our contact tracing policy, or due to requirements from within their own household. This represents less than two per cent of our workforce, and a further three cases since the last publication.
"We continue to work closely with both the local council bodies and PHE in ensuring our Covid-19 processes are industry leading.
"The health, safety and well-being of all our colleagues is paramount to our organisation and we have, and continue to, go to great lengths to ensure all of our employees are safe.
"We have put in place robust measures, all consistent with the government guidelines, and invested in further safety and social distancing measures to protect all of our ‘critical workers’.
"These are unprecedented circumstances and our priorities are the safety and welfare of our colleagues.
"We continue to enforce the strictest hygiene and social distancing measures in all of our locations and work hard to keep our people safe, as we have done so since the start of this pandemic.”
A spokesman for the county’s Covid urgent response cell said: “We are aware of positive cases of COVID-19 at IForce, Geddington Road, Corby.
"The individuals who have tested positive have been advised to self-isolate, as well as those identified as their contacts.
“We are working closely with Public Health England and our Environmental Health and Health and Safety Executive colleagues, as we usually would, to ensure that measures are in place to prevent further virus spread.
“Based on the information we have so far, the risk to the wider population is low and we will be continuing to monitor this.
"Coronavirus is not known to be transmitted via food products but it’s important to remember to adhere to guidance on hand hygiene, wash your hands regularly or use hand sanitiser.
"Clean touch points and work surface after use; maintain social distancing and wear a face covering as per national guidance.”