By Professor Dominic Harrison, public health director Blackburn with Darwen Council

WE are probably at the ‘peak suppression’ point in our pandemic response.

Things are going well but risks will rise again as we lift the lockdown. We need to be vigilant.

In the most recent weeks confirmed data, the UK has seen a 4.2 per cent decline in cases, a 21 per cent reduction in hospitalisations and a 25 per cent reduction in deaths from Covid-19.

In Blackburn with Darwen, we started this week with a rate of 107 cases per 100,000 –about twice the national rate of cases at 55 per 100,000. Locally, the overall rate continues to decline, but as the number of cases gets smaller we will see a small rises and falls in rates day on day, as even a couple of household clusters of cases may affect the overall rate.

In the week to March 23 we had 162 cases, about a third of which 53 cases were in nought to 15-year-olds. This does represent a rise in cases in school aged children since schools re-opened on March 8. A large proportion of these cases have been identified by the new lateral flow device testing now operating in secondary schools. We would not have picked up cases in such large numbers before Christmas as asymptomatic children and their parents would not have known they were infectious and would not have been tested. The rapid expansion underway in both schools and workplaces of lateral flow device testing allows us to exclude employees from workplaces or children from school if they are highly infectious which now allows us to shut down transmission more effectively.

Lockdown and vaccination are clearly driving down cases, hospitalisations and deaths. For three consecutive days, March 23 to 25, there were no Covid deaths at East Lancashire Hospitals Trust and most of the days in the last week have seen less than three hospital admissions per day.

On one day in the last week, we saw no new cases diagnosed in anyone over the age of 60, and the positivity rate in Blackburn with Darwen has fallen to 3.3 per cent, despite a rise in the number of tests taken.

Taken together, these improvements in our capacity to detect and prevent infection, transmission and hospitalisation in the population are rapidly improving our capacity to manage the impacts of the pandemic.

They are also changing the relationship between cases and harm. We may be able to tolerate slightly higher case numbers as we go into the summer with less harm arising from them.

However, as we open up through the various stages of lockdown lifting, we will get increased social contact and a rising risk of transmission. We will also have the constant risk of new variants arising in the UK, or being imported from foreign travel.

Despite these risks, if we are vigilant in our behaviours, and no new variant disrupts progress, it looks at the moment like we are probably on course for a good summer.