I just wanted to write to you all about the incidence of Covid-19 locally, and the fact that there was some media coverage about an above average R rate (the way they measure whether the virus is spreading or contracting). I also note there was a tragedy involving a fishing boat off Fleetwood over the weekend which saw both RNLI involvement and a loss of life sadly.
People have been rightly very concerned about references to a very high R rate. I had an urgent and pretty long conversation with the Director of Public Health about the R-rate figure on Friday morning as I too was concerned. He made a number of points about the so-called R rate. Firstly, there is a very wide margin of error when calculating something like that on a relatively small local area like Blackpool, with equally a relatively small caseload - the margin of error is pretty large. Additionally, if it is just a snapshot of one day, it is highly susceptible to any day with a mini-spike - the website that cited an R rate of 1.66 a few days ago was citing the R rate in Blackpool as 0.68 last time I checked. Furthermore, Blackpool statistics include patients from all over Lancashire if they are treated at the Vic (which is the main coronavirus site for this 'half' of the county) so the figures for actual residents will be lower.
Leaving an argument about numbers aside, he did explain that there had been a small increase in infections last weekend which has not continued into this week. Apparently the increase was due to transmission within the hospital which they have now got on top of - so isn't actually linked to extra visitors. I have asked for local statistics to be actively published so people can judge for themselves the trajectory of cases locally, as well as the absolute numbers.
However, I continue to share the concern over high numbers of visitors being a risk as it is so hard to enforce social distancing.
The fact we will be likely to have further mini-spikes like the rest of the country is why 'track and trace' matters so much as it helps to identify where the infections are occurring and pinpointing the weaknesses in enforcement. If a pattern emerges that promenade businesses in Cleveleys are a source, then we can really focus enforcement there. Trading standards, for example, can issue enforcement notices to businesses not taking the right steps, and employees are proactively encouraged to raise with the Health & Safety Executive also.
If track and trace doesn't allow us to clamp down speedily on the cause, then I think I would be worried. And all of this is against an ongoing downward trend regionally and nationally. But just as were about 3 weeks behind London in the virus taking hold, so we will be about 3 weeks behind in it declining - which is why the idea of local lockdowns for any spike will remain really important. It is also probably worth reiterating my public criticism, which you might have seen, of the events surrounding Mr Cummings. The events were indefensible and made it so much harder to encourage compliance with the guidelines – and I feared we would see some of the scenes we have seen at coastal locations up and down the country.
In terms of what I have been doing personally to try to manage the situation, I have been in liaison with Lancashire Constabulary, and as part of a regular series of conference calls where I report incidents within my own constituency. It is worth bearing in mind that the Golden Mile in Blackpool does not lie within my constituency so it is harder to bring pressure.
In addition, I have regular engagement with Blackpool Council (such as yesterday's) who have responsibility for the public health advice issued (also through their tourism promotion body Visit Blackpool as well as their own outlets), not least to potential visitors. Indeed, the Council leader has appeared on national and regional media pushing the message that Blackpool’s is not “open for business” yet. I have backed that up by appearances on local radio issuing the same message as well as via my own social media channels. I have also called for improved signage at key areas to remind people of the rules – citing the number of cases locally to try and nudge them into compliance.
As more begins to open as guidelines change, this becomes harder to sustain of course. It is also the case that it is far harder to deter local residents from visiting the seafront for exercise which they have always been entitled to do within the guidelines.
As for my engagement with the Government, I have made the point strongly that “I still think there is an argument for having differential rules according to regions - London and the East of the England, which were hit first, saw no new admissions to hospital yestersday, whilst Barrow, which was among the last to be hit, has turned into a coronavirus hotspot”. Local infection rates should be born in mind when making local decisions. I have also asked for consistency in guidelines - amusement arcades can now open (with lots of surfaces to touch) for example, but other businesses where maintaining safety is easier cannot.
So I certainly would not say concerns were unfounded, but I think it shows that as the number of cases overall falls, variations will stick out much more prominently and become news. It remains frustrating to me that so many are on the seafront seemingly unconcerned to follow social distancing, so the tourist board needs to be really clear in its messaging - which I will then try and echo on social media - and carry on the actions above. The Councils are doing all they can and collaborating closely with the police.
Please do continue to follow the guidelines and stay safe.
Paul Maynard MP
Conservative - Blackpool North & Cleveleys
07885 651 705
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Paul Maynard MP
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