Why North Yorkshire is on high alert and what it means for Harrogate as Covid figures rise

As the nation enters a tough, new phase of the Covid pandemic, what does it mean for the Harrogate district and what are the latest figures saying about the real extent of the virus in Harrogate in recent weeks?

Thursday, 24th September 2020, 4:34 pm
Updated Thursday, 24th September 2020, 4:47 pm
North Yorkshire Police Licencing Officer Jackie Allen is pictured in the summer working with Harrogate Borough Council checking the pubs are playing by the rules. (Picture Gerard Binks)

Even before the Prime Minister’s dramatic announcement this week of new measures to help curb a surge in coronavirus at the national level, local authorities in the Harrogate district were already preparing to return to “full emergency mode.”

The recent quadrupling of Covid cases in North Yorkshire meant North Yorkshire was already on a state of high alert before Boris Johnson unveiled new restrictions on bars, public gatherings and weddings after the warning by scientists that cases could reach 50,000 cases a day by October.

Recent figures showing 31 schools and educational establishments in the county had suffered cases of coronavirus since students returned is part of the reasons for a new call to arms to the public in our district.

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Richard Webb, North Yorkshire County Council’s corporate director of health and adult services, said how people behaved in their daily lives was crucial to save lives.

Mr Webb said: “We are clearly entering a new stage of the pandemic. This is now a long slog.

“It’s no longer about beating the virus, it’s about living with Covid.

“Five hundred people lost their lives in the county in the first stage of the virus. We need to act now.”

The need for the public to now follow the basic rules of washing their hands, wearing face masks and keeping their distance was greater than ever, Mr Webb added.

North Yorkshire Police superintendent Mike Walker, too, has added his voice to those calling on the public to become more Covid vigilant.

Even as the Government introduced new rules on face coverings to counter what it described as a ‘perilous turning point’ for the nation’s battle with Covid, North Yorkshire Police had started putting dedicated patrol cars on the roads for officers to engage with groups who are not following social distancing rules.

Richard Flinton, chair of meant North Yorkshire Local Resilience Forum, which is made up senior figures from the police and local authorities who plan for catastrophic emergencies, also called for the public to show a new level of caution.

Mr Flinton, chief executive of North Yorkshire County Council, said: “We are seeing a worrying rise in cases in a number of areas.

“Please show extra restraint and caution and to take additional actions above and beyond those required nationally to help us try to avoid lockdowns here.”

In his address on Tuesday, Boris Johnson warned everyone that they faced another six months of restrictions, with the implied threat of a full ‘second lockdown’ which would involve stopping households mixing altogether and closing hospitality and leisure facilities.

Dr Lincoln Sargeant, the county council’s director of public health, says available data increased community transmission of the virus suggested the spread between households was the biggest driver of infection, rather than pubs and cafes.

But Richard Webb said, even though pubs remained open at present, how people behaved when enjoying a drink was critical and that the new 10pm curfew was not a “charter to open early and drink as much as possible before closing time.”

Having fallen to one to two new cases per day at the end of July, North Yorkshire is now seeing around 20 new cases per day.

Dr Sargeant said the “significant limitations” with laboratory capacity nationally meant that fewer test appointments are available and results, as a result, were taking longer to be processed.

But evidence showed that cases of the virus in schools, care homes and the workplace had actually originated in households.

That was, ultimately, likely to be the most important battleground in the future.

Latest official figures on virus in Harrogate

In cold hard statistics, since cases of the virus began creeping up earlier this month, the Harrogate district has experienced the highest numbers in our county in absolute terms, says North Yorkshire County Council.

At 39, Harrogate tops the list in the data for the seven days up to September 20.

Second highest is Craven at 35 followed by Selby 31, Hambleton 26, Scarborough 19, Richmond nine and Ryedale three.

But that has to be placed in the context of the rate of infection which takes into account relative population sizes.

Calculated at one per 100,000 people, that means the Harrogate district figures are the fourth-highest in that time period at 24 cases per 100,000.

Top is Craven with 61, followed by Selby at 34, then Hambleton 28.

As a whole in England, the infection rate currently stands at 30.6.

Across North Yorkshire, the average is 26, leaving Harrogate’s record slightly better than the norm in this county.

As regards the risk of a Leicester-style lockdown in Harrogate or elsewhere in the county, concern over the rate of infection has led to new advice to people living in Scarborough and Selby from the county council to always use face coverings when leaving home.

But local authorities rely largely on the Government to order and enforce local lockdowns.

This week Dr Lincoln Sargeant, the county council’s director of public health, said calling for such a move was not on the cards.

Dr Lincoln said: “Asking for a lockdown is a last resort. I’m not convinced that one would necessarily address the problems we are seeing here with household transmissions. There are more effective measures to take.

“But if numbers escalate, you could slam on the breaks with a lockdown.”

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