The weekly coronavirus column from Blackburn with Darwen’s public health director

ON Wednesday June 2, Blackburn with Darwen had a confirmed Covid-19 case rate of 416.2 cases per 100,000 of the population and rising. This is the highest UK local authority rate of Covid cases and is driven by a surge of the new B.1.617.2 variant. This variant has now been renamed the ‘Delta variant’ by the World Health Organisation, with the UK or Kent variant now named the Alpha Variant.

The BwD testing rate has risen to 730.9 per 100,000, up from the previous week’s high of 583.3. This high testing rate is a direct result of our successful ‘surge testing programme’. It will make a very strong contribution to identifying cases, supporting self-isolation and breaking the chain of transmission across our communities. The positivity rate is 8.3 per cent, slightly down on the previous week's rate of 9.1 per cent.

Most local authority areas across east and central Lancashire are now seeing rising cases of the Delta variant. This may now account for about 80 per cent of the new cases across the North West region.

Hospital data is continuing to give insights on clinical risks of this new variant. Local numbers are too small to draw any statistically significant conclusions, but there are some emerging insights. We know from national analyses that infection with the Delta variant is more likely to result in symptoms than with the original Wuhan strain or the Alpha variant.

At 8am on Wednesday there were 26 confirmed Covid cases in ELHT. Seven of the 26 were in critical care – but only one of the seven was above the age of 65 which is a different age profile to the critical care cohort compared to the previous three waves.

Seven patients had had two vaccinations, four had had a single jab and 10 were not vaccinated although most, but not all were at an age where they could have been. Vaccinations were a mix.

The ethnicity of patients was mainly South Asian, which reflects the focus of the spread of those cases infected two to three weeks ago – but the ethnicity mix of cases is changing. Nationally, the majority of Delta variant cases are now of ‘White British’ ethnicity. Patients both in general hospital beds and in critical care are recovering faster with reduced bed days in hospital compared to previous waves. The ‘flow’ of patients also appears faster than in previous waves with June 1 seeing 10 Covid admissions and five discharges in ELHT.

Overall, it seems that the hospitalised cohort is both more protected now through vaccination and much younger and so more resilient than in previous waves. At present it looks like a mixture of lower average age and vaccine protection is meaning less critical care admissions and near zero deaths.

Our current variant surge is causing significant but manageable NHS impacts. What we need now is to accelerate first and second dose vaccine coverage to 90 per cent as fast as possible, and to vaccinate 12 to 18-year-olds as soon as safe and effective.