Express & Star comment: We can't let our guard down yet

There is no doubt that we can all take heart from the fact that Covid cases are falling across our region.

An Emergency Department Nurse during a demonstration of the Coronavirus pod and COVID-19 virus testing procedures
An Emergency Department Nurse during a demonstration of the Coronavirus pod and COVID-19 virus testing procedures

In some areas infection rates have dropped by more than 20 per cent over the course of the past week, while for the first time in a long time not a single borough has seen cases head in an upwards direction.

This is, of course, a great relief, and comes as the vaccine roll out continues to gather pace, with the wider Midlands area seeing the highest number of jabs delivered in the country.

However, this good news comes with a number of caveats.

Case numbers remain incredibly high in parts of the region – some of the highest in the country in fact – and although infection levels are falling, the rate of decrease is much slower than it is in other parts of the UK.

This is having a devastating impact on local health services.

A number of hospitals across the region have more than 300 Covid patients on wards, with numbers expected to remain up at that level for at least the next two weeks.

In Shropshire, pressure on intensive care units in the county continues to ramp up, with admissions for Covid rising by 45 per cent over the last week.

Meanwhile, New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton has seen more than a third of its ward beds taken up with Covid patients for several weeks.

One of the reasons this is so worrying is that today's infections can become hospital admissions in a couple of weeks’ time.

At all of our hospitals this is having a knock on effect for other treatments, which have been delayed or cancelled.

And while the number of cases in the community may well be falling, death rates are rising – hitting peak levels for the whole pandemic in some areas.

There is also the issue of the new strain of the virus, which health chiefs believe transmits far easier than the previous variant.

In the Midlands, this appears to have arrived later than it did in other parts of the UK, possibly explaining why infection rates are not falling as dramatically as they are in some areas.

What this all means is that we are a million miles away from being in a position where we can let our guards down.

Coronavirus is still killing people – more than 100,000 Brits since the start of the pandemic – and there have been suggestions that the new strain is even more deadly.

While most of the deaths have been in older age groups, almost one quarter of those who have died with the virus were under 75

And it is particularly concerning that Covid has widened health inequalities and affected black, Asian and minority-ethnic communities disproportionately.

We must all continue to do all we can to help stop the spread of the virus. This includes taking up the vaccine when it is offered.

There are signs that lockdown measures are having a major impact. Falling rates and the opening of new vaccination centres give us reason to hope.

But we are far from out of the woods yet.

As far as the health of the population is concerned, the remainder of our battle against the virus can be measures in months rather than weeks.

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