HEALTH officials and town leaders are bracing themselves for the potential announcement of tougher restrictions across St Helens and the surrounding region after an alarming rise in coronavirus cases.

Senior councillors, MPs and officers who sit on St Helens' outbreak management board have held a series of meetings this week amid a surge in confirmed cases across the borough and in neighbouring areas including Liverpool, Knowsley, Warrington and Halton.

There are mounting reports Merseyside and the neighbouring region could follow the North East into facing much tighter measures as the rising coronavirus infection rate shows no sign of slowing down.

There were reports last night that parts of Lancashire will also face more stringent measures.

As reported by the Star earlier this week, cases have continued to rise at a rapid pace and last Friday, St Helens and the rest of Merseyside was placed on the national watch list after being identified as “an area of concern” by the Government.

It is believed ministers were due to meet to discuss the growing problem in the region and to consider what further measures could be put in place.

Council sources believe an announcement could be imminent, a view echoed by senior health officials in Warrington and Liverpool.

Latest confirmed figures show there were 185 cases across St Helens in the seven days to September 14, a rate of 102.4 per 100,00. The rate in the seven days to September 7 was 65.3 after 118 cases.

St Helens is 11th in a table showing the highest rates, sandwiched between Liverpool (107.8) and Warrington (100.5).

Earlier this week St Helens’ director of public health Sue Forster took to Twitter to say she had “deep concerns” about the rate of infection and also the speed of the increase.

In a further move parents are being asked to wear face masks at the school gates in an effort to quell the rise in cases.

READ> Parents asked to wear masks on school run

The outbreak management board agreed a number of additional measures to try and stop the rate of community transmission.

The measures agreed by the outbreak management board, which is made up of councillors, senior officers and MPs, include:

Parents should wear face coverings when they arrive at the school gates to pick up or drop off their children and not gather in groups of more than six at the school gates.

Temporarily suspend care home visits.

Reinforcing the need for staggered drop off/pick up times for schools.

A halt to any temporary event licences being approved to reduce the possibility of groups of people gathering.

Reviewing the council’s powers to be able to take action against non-compliance with the current legislation.

The public are also urged to continue to keep following these four key preventative measures:

Reduce your social contact with people from outside your household and reduce the number of groups you meet.

Keep at least 2m apart from anyone from outside your household

Wear a face mask in enclosed spaces or when maintaining 2m distances isn’t possible

Wash your hands regularly for at least 20 seconds

An important message from your director of public health

Ms Forster warned that if the spike isn’t brought under control then hospital admissions will rise.

It is understood that Whiston Hospital has already seen a slight rise in admissions over the past week.

Ms Forster said: “Our infection rate has spiralled dramatically in a very short space of time and we need to start changing the way we all live.

“We know it is very difficult to add further restrictions here in the borough that will have an impact on many people but we have to do something because our figures are continuing to climb at an alarming rate.

“It is absolutely vital that everyone follows the rule of six and reduces meeting others socially as these are the most common ways that we are seeing people catching this virus.

“If we do not cut off this spike we will start to see the impacts in the coming weeks in rising hospital admissions and we know other places like Bolton are now seeing their hospital coming under pressure from Covid-19 cases.

“No-one wants to see us back in the situation we were in earlier this year but if we don’t follow the key guidance we will see people, maybe someone close to you, very seriously ill.”