By Dominic Harrison: director of public health, Blackburn with Darwen Council

THE rates of Covid-19 cases continue to rise across Lancashire with little certainty as yet of reaching a peak of the third wave, although we should be seeing clear signs of Lockdown effects bringing sustained falling rates soon.

There has been some concern that the increased infectivity of the new variant could outstrip the control effects of the current lockdown.

However, whilst London and the South-East continued to rise over the first week after Christmas with some of their local authority areas reaching rates of around 1,600 per 100,000 at the end of last week, today the highest London rate is about 1,400.

It is therefore possible we are seeing early signs of a peak or plateauing of cases. If this continues over the next week or so, it will be good news.

Confirmed cases for Blackburn with Darwen up to the January 6 (the most complete data set with fully accurate data) shows the borough has a case rate of 731 per 100,000 which takes the weekly numbers of people infected to over 1,095 per week. Positivity rates have steadied at about 22 per cent and the testing rates have risen significantly. Testing is now nearly up to a rate of about 500 per 100,000. This rate will increase as the SMART testing programme expands over the coming weeks using Lateral Flow Devices. The more people that get tested and self-isolate when infectious the better.

Vaccinations across Lancashire are speeding ahead and Blackburn Cathedral Crypt is ready to go from January 18 with at least 1,700 appointments a day. There are nine priority groups for vaccination in the first phase of the national programme which, when completed, will ensure we have vaccinated everyone aged over 50. When this is done, it is estimated that over 90 per cent of those likely to be hospitalised or die from Covid will have been covered as there are very few Covid deaths in the under 50s.

We could get to this point in late April or very early May. That will depend most critically on the supply of the vaccine itself. If more versions of the vaccine are approved and available for use before then, we can move quicker. When we do get to the point that everyone over 50 and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable are vaccinated, the relationship between confirmed cases and risk will change dramatically. At that point , we could perhaps tolerate much higher case rates with much less harm as most people then infected would not have a risk of hospitalisation or death and the NHS would not be overwhelmed.

There will still be a risk of long Covid for those infected, and we will not get to herd immunity until the autumn when at least 80 per cent of the population is vaccinated and immune. We will still have to have some control measures in place but our social and economic life could open up again.

The best advice for now seems to be to act as if everyone is infected-including ourselves. If we judge what we do and where we go using that assumption we will save lives.

Our challenge for now is not to fall at the last hurdle by letting the virus get out of control.

We all need to stick to all of the lockdown rules - all of the time.