Analysis: Is lockdown finally working in Suffolk?

Aldeburgh during the first weekend of lockdown 3

Local residents running errands were the only people out on the town streets - Credit: Charlotte Bond

Coronavirus infections are shrinking in several areas of Suffolk and north Essex and the regional R number is also falling - offering a glimmer of hope that lockdown may be finally starting to work.

Experts believe we are at a critical point of the pandemic with our NHS overwhelmed by an unprecedented second wave of Covid patients.

Although hospital inpatient numbers regionally fell for the first time yesterday, the decrease was very slight, with numbers going from 4,306 on January 13 to 4,303 on January 14.

It also comes just days after Ipswich Hospital had to double its intensive care unit capacity amid a surge in Covid patients.

It can take weeks for rising infections in the community to translate into hospital admissions and deaths, so we may not have seen the worst of it yet.

Clearly, we are not out of the woods, but some of the pivotal numbers we have been monitoring for months are showing signs of moving in the right direction. Suffolk's overall infection rate is levelling off. 

Another key metric, the R number, is falling in the east of England according to researchers at the University of Cambridge.

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The experts said the number of Covid-19 infections across England is falling as a whole, with the reproductive rate - the R - below 1 in some regions.

Areas with a current R rate below 1 include the East of England, London, the South East, West Midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber.

And several districts of Suffolk and north Essex have seen infection rates retreat in recent days, with the latest numbers showing falls in Mid Suffolk, West Suffolk, Babergh and Colchester.

Of the 315 local areas in England, 154 (49%) saw a rise in case rates in that same period, while 159 (50%) recorded a fall and two remained unchanged.

Rates in Mid Suffolk fell from 449 to 357 per 100,000, while West Suffolk recorded a similar decrease from 474 to 407.

Babergh's infection rate fell from 593.2 but to 522.2 and remained below the national average of 647.4 per 100,000 people.

Colchester saw Covid infections fall from 897 to 754 per 100,000 during that week, which is still above the England average.

Among those recording a rise were Ipswich and Tendring, and the latter is currently among the top 10 areas nationally with the highest week-on-week increases.

Its infection rate for the week to January 10 was nearly double the England average of around 650 per 100,000 people, with 1,138 infections per 100,000.

That is up from 989 the previous week, and has been pushed up by surging rates in postcodes such as Walton, Frinton and Clacton.

Several of Suffolk's so-called 'Covid hotspots', divided into MSOA areas with populations of around 7,200 people, are in Ipswich. Overall, the town's rate climbed again to 670 infections per 100,000 in the week to January 10, up from 647.

The town's Maidenhall, Stoke and Port area had the highest infection rate in Suffolk as of January 9, with a rolling seven-day rate of 1,056 positive cases per 100,000 people.

This is significantly above the national average and represents a jump of 103 cases in a week.

Although falling infection rates and a lower R number indicate the virus could be beginning to shrink, there is no guarantee numbers will stay that way.

It could be weeks yet until the pressure is eased in hospitals and the vaccine rollout takes effect, meaning the only action we can take is to stay at home and respect the restrictions.

NHS trusts in our region are already overwhelmed with critical care beds at their highest capacity for several years.

On Monday, Professor Chris Whitty warned we now face the "worst weeks" of the pandemic, urging people to stay at home unless "absolutely necessary".

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