Council health boss concedes that Covid-19 surge caught authorities by surprise

  Posted: 15.01.21 at 16:07 by Angela Sharda - BBC Local Democracy Reporting Service

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THURROCK Council’s senior health officer has conceded that the borough was taken ‘by surprise’ by the surge in Covid-19 cases in December.

From being in a position of being an area rated in Tier One, with a relatively low number of cases and depths, the end of 2020 and January has seen Thurrock at the top of the national table for being the most affected by the virulent bug.

Ian Wake, director of Public Health for Thurrock Council, told a meeting of the authority’s health and well-being overview and scrutiny committee last night (Thursday, 14 January) that: “The new variant of Covid-19 changed everything, it caught everyone by surprise.”

The rate of infection in Thurrock now stands at 1,148 cases per 100,000, compared to a rate of 502 across England, according to figures from January 4 to January 10.

There were 252 coronavirus-related deaths registered to 1 Jan and 2,002 cases in the latest week of 4 January to 10 January.

Mr Wake admitted he is unsure what health leaders in the area could have done differently to stop the spread, but members of the committee expressed their view that schools should have been closed sooner.

He conceded the fact there was merit in the argument and said: “This new variant is much less forgiving. We could see the new variant was far more transmissible among young people.”

Committee chairman Cllr Shane Ralph said: “I did ask for more action to be taken on the schools sooner – I wish we could have shut a week earlier to reduce infections.”

However, Mr Wake added that councils do not have that power to close schools and instructions for this must come from central government.

The new variant of Covid-19 was detected by the government in November 2020 and has been rapidly spreading across England.

Cllr Victoria Holloway, previous chair of the committee who was removed in a Conservative shake-up of committees last year, asked Mr Wake to elaborate on concerns about care homes.

Mr Wake stated there would always be a risk of worry for care homes as the setting was easy for Covid-19 to spread, easy to contract and the level of health of those in care homes.

He added that arrangements were working well with care home hubs now being set up with daily calls being made to care home managers, personal protection equipment (PPE) was well supplied, with additional health arrangements in place and good care planning.

Cllr Holloway expressed her concern that a number of key issues including the vitally important fees and charges for domiciliary care - that she expected to see on the agenda were not put before members and some aspects of the committee's work programme were no longer in place.

She told Cllr Ralph: "You are responsible as chair, you need to ensure these matters are brought before the committee. If we are not going to scrutinise, then what's the point of having the committee?"

Cllr Ralph largely brushed her concerns aside and said that the matters would be put back on the agenda in due course."

The council's Corporate Director of Adults, Housing and Health Roger Harris said that 'because of Covid' officers had not had time to prepare the briefings. He too said they would be put back on future agendas. "We just need to be a little flexible. I will absolutely guarantee they will come back, I just can't guarantee when" he said.

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