North Yorkshire health boss warns 'everyone must be more vigilant' after sharp rise in coronavirus cases
The region's most senior public health official has warned that everyone – wherever they live, work or visit – must be more vigilant after a rise in coronavirus cases led to tighter restrictions on social gatherings.
Dr Lincoln Sargeant, the director of public health for North Yorkshire, has cautioned that the increase has not just been in neighbouring hotspots like Leeds, but also in Harrogate which has had the highest rise in cases in the county.
Of the 125 positive cases confirmed across North Yorkshire in the last two weeks, Harrogate had 32.
Dr Sargeant said: “The ways in which the coronavirus spreads have not changed and the actions people need to take to protect themselves and others remain the same.
"The situation in Leeds reflects an increase in the number of positive tests seen across the country in the last few weeks. We have also seen increases in Harrogate.
"The increase in the number of people testing positive for the virus means that everyone needs to be more vigilant wherever they live, work or socialise."
It comes as the government has announced social gatherings of more than six people will be illegal - with some exceptions - from Monday.
The law change will ban larger groups meeting anywhere socially indoors or outdoors, but will not apply to schools, workplaces or Covid-secure weddings, funerals and organised team sports.
The government's scientific advisers have also given stark warnings that the nation could face an uncertain six months because people have "relaxed too much" about the dangers of coronavirus over summer.
Ministers singled out young people in particular for not following social-distancing rules, but experts said it was unfair to blame them alone.
Public Health England figures show that the Harrogate district has recorded 825 cases since the pandemic began.
Throughout August, estimates suggest that the district was seeing around two to three new cases per day.
Seventeen cases have been confirmed in the past 48 hours.
Sixteen miles away in Leeds, the city has been added to Public Health England's list as an "area of concern" following a sharper rise in cases.
City bosses have said being on the list does not mean lockdown restrictions would be brought in immediately but action could be taken if the infection rate does not start to fall.
Dr Sargeant said the situation in Leeds will be monitored and Harrogate residents this side of the boundary would be alerted to any restrictions.
He said: “The measures that are implemented in an ‘area of concern’ will vary according to the specific circumstances of that area and the patterns of transmission there.
“We monitor surrounding areas and, if interventions are taken, we will advise residents in adjacent parts of North Yorkshire accordingly."
Last week, bosses in charge of the national coronavirus testing system apologised after it emerged labs were struggling to keep up with demand.
This was because testing capacity was being pulled from low-risk to high-risk areas, leaving some potentially infected people having to travel hundreds of miles to get tested.
In North Yorkshire, officials have said the number of mobile testing sites has remained the same, although the number of bookable slots may be reduced.
Richard Flinton, chair of North Yorkshire Local Resilience Forum, said: “We are working as hard as we can to ensure that locally we have as much testing capacity as possible.
“Nationally, demand for testing has increased in recent weeks and to manage this capacity at sites across the country has been adjusted."
The government is aiming to scale up testing capacity to 500,000 tests a day by the end of October to boost tracing efforts and in preparation for a potential second spike during winter.
People are being reminded to follow guidance on social distancing, hand-washing, and wearing face masks while those with symptoms of the virus have been told to stay at home.
Dr Sargeant said: “We continue to provide information and advice for residents to enable them to avoid infection and to get tested if they develop symptoms suggestive of coronavirus infection.
"Where people test positive, it is important that they self-isolate for 10 days and identify their contacts to NHS Test and Trace so they can self-isolate for 14 days.
"The county council will continue to promote guidance for residents to remain safe from Covid-19."
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter