PUBLIC health directors have expressed “deep concerns” that they do not have the tools to fight the rapid rise in coronavirus infections.

St Helens’ director of public health has joined her peers across Cheshire and Merseyside in calling for more resources to deal with the surge in cases.

Public health chiefs said they are “alarmed” that some residents are being asked to travel to other parts of the country to get a Covid-19, which has meant some symptomatic residents have not been able to access a test.

They said this poses a “significant threat to the health and wellbeing of the residents of Cheshire and Merseyside”.

Across the country, there has been a dramatic increase in infections, with Newton-le-Willows seeing the biggest spike locally.

Cases are increasing at such a rapid pace that on Friday, St Helens and the whole of Merseyside was identified as an area of concern by the Government and placed on the national watch list.

Public health teams and partners are working hard to implement effective plans, but directors of public health said they are “deeply concerned” they do not have the essential tools to tackle an escalating pandemic.

They are also concerned about resources to effectively lead locally supported contact tracing, with local authority areas being asked to consider taking on the follow-up of cases that the national test and trace system cannot reach.

Sue Forster, director of public health at St Helens Borough Council, said: “Without any further resources, we will find it incredibly difficult to deal with the additional cases, let alone pursue the close contacts of those cases.

“Directors of public health and teams are already at full capacity.

“We would like to request that the appropriate resources are given to local authorities to ensure we have the capacity to deal with the cases that the national system cannot reach and close contacts.”

St Helens Star: Sue Forster, director of public health at St Helens Borough CouncilSue Forster, director of public health at St Helens Borough Council

Data sent to councillors by St Helens’ public health team today showed that, between September 5 to 11, there were 152 new cases of Covid-19 across the borough, equating to an infection rate of 84.4, per 100,000 population.

Newton-le-Willows continues to see the biggest volume of new cases.

Earlestown saw 36 cases of Covid-19 between September 5 to 11, equating to an infection rate of 308.9.

Newton also saw 36 cases during the same period, equating to an infection rate of 288.7.

A mobile testing unit was deployed to Earlestown on Saturday following the rise in cases, and will return on Wednesday and Thursday this week.

St Helens’ public health team had tried to bring a mobile testing unit prior to Saturday but was unable to secure one due to the demand elsewhere.

It was only secured after a direct request to Health Secretary Matt Hancock from St Helens North MP and Shadow Home Office Minister Conor McGinn.

On Monday, Mr McGinn urged the people of St Helens to take rise in infections “seriously”, and appealed particularity to the younger people in the borough.

Directors of public health are also encouraging all residents to play their part, saying it is a “critical moment” in the fight to halt the spread of the virus.

They are calling on the Government to provide the testing capacity and funding for locally supported contact tracing so public health teams and partners can continue to protect communities.

While hospital admissions are currently low, evidence from other countries such as France and Spain shows that as cases rise, so do admissions and deaths.

Champs Public Health Collaborative, which is led by the Cheshire and Merseyside directors of public health, said it is important to protect the most vulnerable and the economy, avoiding nationally imposed restrictions.

St Helens Star: Testing capacity has been increasingly stretched in recent weeksTesting capacity has been increasingly stretched in recent weeks

Ian Ashworth, chair of the Cheshire and Merseyside Directors of Public Health Board and director of public health for Cheshire West and Chester, said: “Directors of public health understand that there is a national issue with laboratory capacity and efforts are being made to rectify this situation but we would ask that immediate action is taken.

“We will work closely with the Cheshire and Merseyside testing group to make the most of the testing capacity available to our residents.

“Additional testing capacity is essential to help prevent further spread of the virus in Cheshire and Merseyside but also the North West.

“Currently the North West region has 25 per cent of the Covid-19 national cases and yet has access to only 15 per cent of the national testing capacity.”

In response, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “NHS Test and Trace is working, our capacity is the highest it has ever been but we are seeing a significant demand for tests.

“New booking slots and home testing kits are made available daily for people with symptoms and we are targeting testing capacity at the areas that need it most, including those where there is an outbreak, and prioritising at-risk groups.

“Our laboratories are processing more than a million tests a week and we recently announced new facilities and technology to process results even faster.

“If you do not have symptoms and are not eligible to get a test you can continue to protect yourself if you wash your hands, wear a face covering and follow social distancing rules.”