'It's about doing things safely, getting tested and having a jab': Lancashire's new "enhanced response area" status explained
Lancashire residents have been advised to exercise “particular caution” about mixing with people not in their household – and, where possible, to meet people outdoors rather than inside and to “minimise travel” in and out of their area.
The new guidance was issued on Tuesday when every part of the region except Blackpool was designated an “enhanced support area” as part of an attempt to stem rising Covid rates in the county, where the average rate across the county council area is currently running at more than three times the England average.
The status will also see additional testing capacity rolled out in Lancashire, with all adults and children being encouraged to get a lab-analysed PCR test – even if they do not have any Covid symptoms.
However, the package of measures – which also includes support, from the military if required, for door-to-door visits to encourage people to take up offers of testing and vaccination – will not see the county get a blanket rollout of the vaccine to all over-18s.
The latter move has long been requested by the county council’s director of public health, Dr. Sakthi Karunanithi, who also called for the enhanced area status that has now been conferred on Lancashire.
At a press conference after the government announcement, Dr. Karunanithi urged people not to presume that they were not yet eligible for a jab. As of Tuesday, the over-25s can get their first dose of vaccine – along with younger people who fall into another eligibility category, such as having particular vulnerability to Covid or caring for or living with someone at heightened risk from the virus.
“There has never been a situation where we have run out of vaccines, so our key push now is [to ask] everybody who is over 18 in Lancashire, just check into that website and turn up – we will help you find out whether you are eligible or not.
“It’s more likely you are eligible and we are wanting people to come and get their jabs, not…to turn people away – because we have never been in a [position] where there has been more people than vaccines.
“I’m calling on all the residents of Lancashire and people working in Lancashire to please come forward for both the jabs.
“We will continue to advocate for Lancashire..to be given a headstart when the next stage comes, when the vaccine [eligibility drops] to the younger age group,” said Dr. Karunanithi, who stressed that the county’s new status was about it being offered “support, not sanctions”.
Denise Park, chair of the Lancashire Resilience Forum, which is co-ordinating the county’s Covid response, added that the guidance issued to Lancashire about mixing and travelling did not mean people living in the county were being prohibited from doing anything that was permitted elsewhere.
“In terms of hospitality [venues], the guidance is to meet outdoors where possible – it is safer to meet outdoors, we know that, or in well ventilated areas. So if you can, meet outdoors – if you can’t, make sure that you’re wearing masks when you’re moving around, that you’re sanitising and following the basic guidance
“It’s not about [saying] ‘don’t do it’, it’s about do[ing] it safely – and the safest way is outdoors.
“That’s the same with travel – it’s not saying don’t travel, it’s saying consider your travel arrangements. If you’re travelling by car with other people, is it well-ventilated? If you’re on public transport, are you wearing a mask?
“It’s not a travel ban – this is about additional support for these areas and additional guidance to urge them to continue to take extra caution.
“We didn’t want to see measures that would bring in additional restrictions. We understand that we have to learn to live with this virus and manage the variants and therefore it is about measures that support our residents – and the key to that is going to be engaging with residents to ensure maximum take-up of the vaccine,” Ms. Park added.
Other support as part of the enhanced response area package includes supervised testing in schools, priority testing of wastewater samples for sequencing to identify variants and spot checks to ensure workplaces are Covid-safe.
There will also be a drive to increase vaccine uptake across eligible cohorts by “upweighting resources” for the vaccine programme, while a vaccines champion could be designated to improve access to and encourage uptake of the vaccine – particularly in areas that are being targeted for testing.
Local authorities will also be able to approach their police force, Health and Safety Executive and other enforcement agencies to seek support for compliance and enforcement of Covid regulations.
Anyone can book a free PCR test online or by calling 119.
If you do not have symptoms, you should select the option that says you have been asked to carry out a test by your local authority.
Residents can also pick up a free PCR kit from a designated collection point or have a kit sent to their home.
Lancashire residents are also being urged to continue to make use of free twice-weekly, rapid-result lateral flow tests, alongside the PCR test, as part of the surge testing programme now being rolled out in the county.