AS the days tick down to Boris Johnson setting out the “roadmap” for the country coming out of a third coronavirus lockdown, what is the state of play in St Helens?

We have been reporting over the past week that St Helens’ infection rate is still high – indeed it is among the highest in the country – but the positive is that it has fallen significantly after the sharp spike in January.

The situation at St Helens and Knowlsey Teaching Hospitals Trust remains severe and the death toll is still rising – but the figures for patient admissions offer hope we are well on the way down from the peak.

There is also rapid progress being made with the vaccination programme across St Helens.

St Helens Star:

The vaccine programme is progressing well

What is the situation with infections?

At the end of last year, days before we headed into another national lockdown, the weekly rate of Covid-19 in St Helens was 371 per 100,000 (for week ending December 31, 2020) after infections surged over Christmas week.

Cases also soared in the early weeks of January but are now subsiding, with the case rate for the week to February 15 standing at 259.7 per 100,000 after 469 new cases.

The previous seven day period had seen 628 cases at a rate of 347.8 per 100,000.

The rate is lower than the number when we headed into the latest lockdown and we are now seeing less than 500 positive cases each week.

St Helens' infection rate is, however, the fifth highest in the country and the highest in the North West and Liverpool City Region.

Latest daily figures, which are often revised and are yet to be factored into the weekly rates, suggest there could be about 50 new cases each day, which would represent another significant fall.

St Helens Star:

People are being urged not to drop their guard

But there are remains a long way to go to bring those rates right down and there will be no room for complacency among health chiefs.

As the experience of the past year has shown, with infections rates this high, hospitals will continue to be under pressure from admissions and sadly there will be more deaths.

What is the situation at our hospitals?

There have been 36 Covid-related deaths in the past week, down from 51 the previous week.

NHS England figures show that since the start of the pandemic 657 people have died in hospital at St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust after testing positive for Covid-19.

St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust was caring for 176 coronavirus patients in hospital as of Tuesday, figures show.

NHS England data shows the number of people being treated in hospital for Covid-19 by 8am on February 16 was down from 240 on the same day the previous week.

The number of beds at St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust occupied by people who tested positive for Covid-19 has also decreased by 29 per cent in the last four weeks – 28 days ago, there were 249.

The figures also show that 86 new Covid patients were admitted to hospital in St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust in the week to February 14.

This was down from 136 in the previous seven days.

St Helens Star:

Whiston Hospital staff continue to be on the frontline of the battle

What have health leaders been saying?

Speaking on Friday, director of public health Sue Forster hailed the progress of the vaccination programme but stressed “it is really important that we do not lower our guard”.

She urged key workers and their families to use symptom-free testing sites before children (of key workers) return to schools next week.

Ms Forster said: “As schools remain open for vulnerable children and the children of critical workers, we need to protect everyone these children and their teachers may come into contact with.

“So, we are asking families to get themselves and their children tested before returning to school after the half-term break.

“There are three symptom-free testing sites in St Helens borough.

St Helens Star:

Granada TV's Paul Crone was among those to have his first jab this week

“We are prioritising symptom-free testing for people who cannot work from home to help to manage demand.

“If you have any coronavirus symptoms, please do not attend a symptom-free testing site, instead, stay at home and book a Covid test online or by calling 119.

“To protect ourselves and others, we need to continue to stay home as much as possible, and follow ‘hands, face, space’ when we do go out for essential trips or daily exercise.”

The health chief also urged people to be responsible when visiting supermarkets

She added: “We are aware that supermarkets in the area have become very busy, which has at times made it difficult for people to keep their distance from each other.

“We do ask that for the safety of everyone that residents shop alone if possible, wear a face covering, sanitise hands and trolleys and maintain a safe space from others.”

What about the vaccination programme?

The vaccination roll-out in St Helens is nearing 50,000 doses being administered.

The effort continues apace as it continues to move through the priority groups.

After the initial target of giving everyone in the top four priority groups, including those aged 70-plus, and the extremely clinically vulnerable, their first dose, the programme has moved on to the next cohorts.

According to weekly NHS figures, released on Thursday, February 18, 48,515 vaccine doses have been administered to patients in total by St Helens Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). This includes first and second doses.

Among over-70s, 25,967 first doses have been given, while among under-70s, 21,301 first jabs have been administered.

Meanwhile, 881 'over-70s' have received both doses, while 366 patients aged under 70 have been given their second shot.

Those aged 65 to 69, who make up the fifth priority group, have been receiving their jabs in St Helens over recent days and those aged 16 to 65 with underlying conditions have also started to be contacted to make appointments.

St Helens Star:

Dr Hilary Flett has urged patients to make an appointment to get vaccinated as soon as they are called

Dr Hilary Flett, GP vaccination lead for the vaccine roll-out in St Helens, said: “Our 33 GP practices have worked amazingly well together to deliver this service, along with the mass vaccination centre and pharmacies and I am very humbled to be part of such an amazing achievement.

“We now need to keep our vaccine supply flowing as we continue to work our way through the priority groups.

“I would also remind patients to make an appointment to get vaccinated as soon as they are called, and come at the right time so we can manage our clinic safely and ensure social distancing.

“If you are unable to attend, please cancel your appointment so we can offer it to someone else.

“Also please remember that the vaccine does not stop transmission so even when you've had your jab, please continue to socially distance, wear a face covering and wash your hands."

Meanwhile, Ms Forster said more than 90 per cent of registered patients across St Helens within categories 1-4 (those aged 70 and over and the clinically extremely vulnerable) have received their first dose of the vaccine.

How to book a Covid-19 test

Call 119, book online via or through the COVID-19 app. When booking online, tick to say you do not have the main symptoms. When asked ‘why are you asking for a test’ select the option ‘my local council or health protection team has asked me to get a test, even though I do not have symptoms’.

If you have booked a test and are awaiting the result or have received a positive test result, you must self-isolate and not leave the house. Self-isolation is the key to preventing the spread of the virus and saving lives.

If you are self-isolating and vulnerable or isolated by coronavirus and are in urgent need of help, call the St Helens Together helpline for support on 01744 676767 (open 8am-10pm, 7 days a week).