Looking for answers as Luton tops the national table for Covid-19 case rates

Town is one of the few areas in the country to be getting its waste water tested

Tuesday, 20th April 2021, 10:12 am
Updated Tuesday, 20th April 2021, 10:20 am

Luton currently has the highest Covid-19 case rate in England with 100 cases per 100,000 population, according to the latest figures.

The town has been top of the east of England rankings, but is now heading the table nationally as well, the borough council's health and wellbeing board was told yesterday.

"As of today (Monday, April 19) Luton has the highest case rate in England, which isn't a position any of us aspired to or hoped we'd find ourselves in," explained the local authority's director of public health Lucy Hubber.

A temporary walk-in vaccination bus pictured in the car park of Sainsbury’s in Bury Park, Luton

"Our case rates have remained relatively stable, around 100 per 100,000, but what we haven't seen is the decline other areas have witnessed.

"We've stayed roughly in the same position, while others have fallen down and means we're top of the table.

"It also provides quite a challenge for us because we haven't got a very strong reason.

"If we had a jump in cases, we could look for a potential cause and we could say that was the explanation."

Issues likely to influence Luton's predicament are "deprivation, population density, and the type of work undertaken locally", said the director of public health.

"All of these are significant contributing factors to the transmission rates in the town.

"We're seeing an impact from international travel now we can track it through, and we're working with the government to understand that data more.

"It's a national issue, but it's more likely to be relevant to populations such as ours which are very diverse.

"We've seen a lot of travel from south Asian countries and from eastern European countries.

"As a town, we've significant populations from those areas," she added. "What I've seen is good evidence of those travellers doing what's been asked of them.

"So they're travelling for legitimate reasons and when they come back they're following the rules by isolating and taking their two tests.

"There's no suggestion anyone's doing anything wrong. But travel itself does seem to be a risk factor for being more likely to test positive.

"Given the number of travellers coming back and the likelihood of them living in houses of multiple occupation, you can gather how we may see an escalation in cases."

Luton is one of the few areas in the country to be getting waste water testing and detailed sampling, said Ms Hubber.

"That started last week and we've got four test points in Luton, which we're hoping will become five.

"What we understand is through the waste water we flush away, we can pick up the prevalence of Covid in our population.

"So they can test the water which comes out, count the amount of Covid found and it gives us an estimation of the number of cases this relates to.

"It tells us how well we understand our population and whether we should be doing more testing in some areas or whether there are any other measures we can undertake.

"We will better understand the figures I'm reporting to you if they truly represent the amount of Covid circulating in our population or not," she added.

"If there's a large gap between, that means we need to be doing much more work making sure more people are tested, and that they understand to get tested whether they've got symptoms or not.

"If they're roughly the same, that means our work is in line with the amount of Covid in the population."

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