However, there has not been any change to the localised restrictions currently in force, following a weekly review by the government.
Dr. Sakthi Karunanithi told a media briefing that people without coronavirus symptoms should continue to get themselves tested in those areas of Lancashire – including Preston and the east of the county – where community testing stations have been set up for that purpose. It comes after the health secretary this week appeared to blame a lack of capacity on people seeking tests even though they did not feel unwell.
“We need to test more people to find where the virus is hiding [in areas with higher rates] to disrupt the transmission,” said Dr. Karunanithi, adding that he had asked the government to classify Lancashire as a priority area for testing so that it was not rationed as it had been elsewhere.
Figures published on Friday show that the Covid case rate has surged over the past week in Preston, Blackburn with Darwen, Hyndburn and Burnley – which are all in the top ten worst-affected parts of the country.
He said that it was unsurprising to find cases in recently-reopened schools in the county, because of the background level of infection – but stressed that any incidences were being well-managed.
Dr. Karunanithi also said that “meticulous planning” had been put in place ahead of the return to universities.
“We are preparing [to enable] students to have an enjoyable experience, but a safe experience as well – not just within the universities themselves, but the night-time economy and [during] fresher’s week.
“There are very well-rehearsed procedures from [dealing with] accommodation to supporting students – but if testing capacity becomes a constraint that will hamper [our efforts].”
He also warned that there were “worrying signs” of an increase in the proportion of over-65s being affected by the recent rises in cases across the county – after they originally appeared restricted largely to younger age groups – as well as a “very small” increase in hospitalisations.
“There is every likelihood that if we don’t get the guidance followed and people who are symptomatic aren’t staying home and participating in the test and trace programme, this will spill over into the vulnerable population There is still a large proportion of [people who haven’t] had the virus, so we are still susceptible.
“None of us is safe until it is safe for all of us – and there is quite a lot of virus around, so we need to do our part.
“[This is] not about restricting us, it’s about restricting opportunities for the virus. This is going to be really important until we have a breakthrough in term of a vaccine or some sort of medical advancement.”
Meanwhile, Lancashire Police have warned those who repeatedly or blatantly flout Covid restrictions – including new national restrictions coming into force on Monday limiting most indoor and outdoor gatherings to six people – that they will face the full fines that the force has the power to impose.
“We’re a neighbourhood policing force and that’s the style we will always keep. However, for the 0.1 percent of people who are habitually disobeying the regulations, or those who have gone out of their way to disobey [them], there will be a shift in policing stance – we will move straight to enforcement,” said deputy chief constable Terry Woods, who thanked for the overwhelming majority of Lancashire residents for attempting to stick to the rules since the outbreak began.
“For the rest of the population, we will engage, encourage and educate – but for the 0.1 percent who are causing issues for the rest, we will be enforcing through fines.”
Those penalties range from £100 for breaking the new ‘rule of six’, to £1,000 for those who do not self-isolate upon their return from a country with which the UK does not have a transport corridor, to £10,000 for anybody organising an illegal gathering.
Although he appealed for people to continue to follow the guidance, Dr. Karunanithi said it was important not to “point the finger”.
“It’s not just people relaxing [their guard] – it’s also about the conditions we create as a society and a government to make it safe for people to come out.
“It’s an equal partnership between the citizen and the state – and it’s a really tricky balance.”