A FALL in the coronavirus infection rate in St Helens appears to have plateaued, with public health chiefs warning they remain “really high”.

The infection rate has been falling in St Helens and the wider region for several weeks, with stringent measures being in place for more than a month.

During the current wave, the infection rate peaked locally in mid-October at 470 positive cases per 100,000 people.

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But since then the rate has been falling, and between November 5 to 11, the rate saw its biggest dip yet, dropping to 256.9.

However, data shared with the People’s Board today put the latest seven day infection rate at 277 cases per 100,000 population.

Sue Forster, St Helens Borough Council’s director for public health, said the rates now are similar to our city region neighbours.

“We have all gone down extremely well,” she said. “However, these are still really high rates.

“And rates which government, before we went into lockdown, would have certainly been considering us still being in Tier 3.”

The Liverpool City Region, which St Helens is a part of, was the first area to be placed under Tier 3 restrictions on October 13 in response to surging rates and hospital admissions across the region.

Since we entered Tier 3 – the highest band of the government’s regional tiered system – infection rates and hospital admissions have been falling, with the country since going into lockdown.

But Ms Forster said the tide was already beginning to turn prior to the any of the tougher measures coming into force.

She said: “What happened in Liverpool City Region, even before we went into Tier 3, the rate had started to slightly dip, particularly in Liverpool and Knowsley, that were really high.

“And that was because there were lots of conversations about the restrictions. There was lots of media around us doing the right thing and engaging with our public.

“And we believe that people had already started to become concerned about the high rates. And our public were already making sure that they were washing their hands regularly, wearing their face masks and keeping their distance to try and reduce the rate.

“And you can really see that that made a big impact on Liverpool City Region, whereas the delays elsewhere, with what we call non-pharmaceutical interventions, so these are the ones where we have restriction on certain parts of our business and society, they were delayed in other areas.

“And what you saw there was, even after they were put in place, a rise in rate.”

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

Ms Forster told the board that infection rates have flipped from the West to the East of the borough.

Public health believes this is linked to high rates in neighbouring boroughs, with high rates in Wigan and Warrington currently affecting parts of the East.

One thing that has been “heartening” to see in the past week, Ms Forster said, is a notable dip in the high infection rate among the overs 60s, which have been a cause for concern.

Despite the progress in bringing down the rate, it has still been slower than some our neighbours, and that is something public health wants to address.

Ms Forster said: “Our rates are decreasing, which is really good news, but we do seem to have seen them go down a little bit slower than other areas.

“And they seem to have sort of, although they’re going down, they seem to have stuck around 260/270.

“We are looking at how we can really make sure we know what the right things are to do at the right time by looking at what de-escalation and escalation strategy and proposals is.

“And we’re working on that as we speak.”

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Ms Forster said the council is continuing to support testing and isolation, and working on how the local test and trace and outbreak management works more effectively with the national service.

She also revealed that the council is now developing its mass testing strategy, which is currently being piloted in Liverpool.