ST HELENS Council is urging people to avoid places such as parks and beauty spots over the bank holiday weekend amid fears that large crowds will gather and make social distancing difficult.

Although there has been an easing of the coronavirus lockdown restrictions, health chiefs in the region remain cautious about the rate of infection.

The Merseyside Resilience Forum says that "while infections and deaths are reducing, it appears that we are not coming down the other side of the epidemic curve as fast as other areas and regions".

Last week St Helens Council and neighbouring authorities urged people to continue to stay at home as much as they can and to continue social distancing.

However, Star readers have raised concerns about groups of younger people gathering in open spaces, in breach of lockdown restrictions.

It has led to fears that some people are not heeding the government's 'stay alert' message and that complacency could be setting in.

The UK was put in lockdown on March 23 and on May 10 Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out a conditional plan on how the Government would aim to ease these measures.

Restrictions are less severe, with people allowed to exercise outdoors as much as they want and sunbathe or sit in parks. One person can meet another in a public place – providing they keep two metres apart.

Some sports and pastimes, such as golf and angling are allowed, subject to conditions.

But gatherings of groups in public are banned and there are general concerns that people flocking to open spaces – even if they are within their own household group – could make areas overcrowded and impossible for social distancing to be maintained.

In a statement St Helens Council said: "There's another bank holiday coming up and many of us will want to get out and about in our borough and beyond.

"But please try to avoid places that are typically busier, such as parks and beauty spots, where it's harder to social distance.

"The stark fact is that Merseyside has a higher coronavirus death rate than the rest of the North West, so we all need to be vigilant."

Since the start of the outbreak there have been 744 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in St Helens at a rate of 413.2 per 100,000.

The number of people who have died after testing positive for COVID-19 at St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust stands at 180.

Rates of infections and deaths do appear to be falling and Whiston Hospital chiefs said a fortnight ago they believed the peak had passed, but there remains a cautious approach among the region's health leaders.

According to the resilience forum's health cell, infection and mortality rates, as of May 20, Merseyside had 5,049 positive diagnoses of COVID-19, a rate of 353.1 per 100,000, significantly higher than the England rate of 259.0 per 100,000.

Merseyside had also seen 1,332 deaths up to May 8 2020, with 66 per cent of deaths occurring in hospital and 34per cent of deaths in care homes, private homes, and hospices.

Looking at the 729 deaths involving COVID-19 in Merseyside up to April 17, 2020, Merseyside has a rate per 100,000 of 52.5, significantly higher than the England rate of 36.6 per 100,000 and the North West rate of 42.5 per 100,000.

Within Merseyside, Liverpool has the highest mortality rate from COVID-19 at 81.8 per 100,000, the highest of all of the English core cities, with Birmingham being the next highest on 77.5 per 100,000, followed by Manchester at 59.8 per 100,000.

There are also concerns that significantly higher rates of respiratory diseases, cardio-vascular diseases and cancer along with higher rates of obesity and diabetes put the area at greater risk from the coronavirus crisis.

What the government instructions say

We can all help control the virus if we all stay alert. This means you must:

  • stay at home as much as possible
  • work from home if you can
  • limit contact with other people
  • keep your distance if you go out (2 metres apart where possible)
  • wash your hands regularly
  • Do not leave home if you or anyone in your household has symptoms.