‘Difficult to know’ why the Covid-19 infection rate in Kirklees is rising

It is “difficult to know” why Kirklees has one of the highest infection rates in the country, claims a public health chief.

Yesterday health secretary Matt Hancock announced the district in West Yorkshire is one of six that will be provided with additional testing and vaccine doses, saying “ rates are rising” and the government “need to act fast”.

He said the decision was made after the government analysed the number of cases and hospitalisations in each area, the spread of new variants, the amount of viral fragments in wastewater and travel patterns.

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In Kirklees the infection rate stands at 70.7 cases per 100,000 people, after 311 cases were recorded over seven days. That is the fourth highest rate in England.

Thamoor Faqir prepares to give a Covid-19 vaccination at the Penny Street Vaccination Centre in Blackburn.

Earlier this week, a small number of cases of a variant (B.1.617.2) first detected in India, which is being treated as a variant of concern by Public Health England, were detected in Huddersfield but Kirklees Council they were “in one household” and it is working to contain the outbreak.

Rachel Spencer-Henshall, the council’s director of Public Health, said: “Whilst deaths and hospitalisations related to the virus remain at a low level in Kirklees, we have to make sure our infection rate does not continue to increase and lead to this changing.

“It’s difficult to know why our infection rate is as high as it is, but we do know how to prevent the virus from spreading because it remains the same.”

She added: “We have positive levels of vaccine uptake in Kirklees but, by speeding up its delivery and adding more pop-up clinics where they’re needed most, we can reduce infection rates and protect local people.

“This support will help us to build on what the council, NHS and partner organisations are already doing. Ultimately, we want to be able to increase the number of people eligible to be vaccinated and boost our capacity in parts of the borough where vaccine uptake is lower.”

Ms Spencer-Henshall has previously said Kirklees may have a relatively high infection rate because "a larger proportion of our population have to leave their house to work".

She is now urging everyone who is invited to get vaccinated to take it as soon as possible.

The latest NHS figures show 340,280 Covid-19 vaccine doses had been administered in Kirklees by May 9.

Ms Spencer-Henshall said: “It doesn’t matter how young or heathy you are, Covid-19 still presents a risk and the vaccine protects not just you, but those around you too.

“Every vaccination matters. This is our main and most sustainable route back to normality.”

The government began providing surge testing and additional vaccinations in the three areas of the country that have the highest infection rates - Bolton, Blackburn with Darwen and Bedford - earlier this month, due to concerns about the spread of the B.1.617.2 variant.

Speaking yesterday, Mr Hancock said the government will take the same action in Kirklees, Bedford, Burnley, Leicester, North Tyneside and Hounslow.

Deputy chief medical officer Professor Van-Tam revealed scientists will know more about the transmissibility of B.1.617.2 by next week.

He said: “I think scientists are sure that this virus is more transmissible than the strain that it is beginning to replace, which is the old Kent B.117 strain.

“The million dollar question is how much more transmissible - we don’t have that yet.”