Column by Professor Dominic Harrison, public health director for Blackburn with Darwen

Coronavirus rates continue to surge in Lancashire and Cumbria. On Tuesday this week the rate for Blackburn with Darwen was 2532 per 100,000 – up 52% on the previous seven days. Lancashire County was 2339 – up 26% and Blackpool was 2603 - up 36%.

Some areas of Cumbria now have higher rates which suggests we may have some distance yet to travel. Barrow in Furness for instance was at a rate of 3145 up 13% on the previous seven days and still rising.

The rate of increase across the North West region over the past 7 days has slowed, but this may be due to lower levels of reporting of positive lateral flow tests, problems in accessing PCR tests, and the fact that the official figures do not count those re-infected. It is estimated that about 13% of Omicron cases are with people who have been infected with a previous variant.

On the 1st January there were 83 Covid in-patients in East Lancashire Hospitals Trust, but by the 10th January this had risen to 182.

It is difficult to know exactly when the Omicron surge may peak in Lancashire. Our best guess at the moment is that Covid Cases in Pennine may peak in the last week of January or the first week of February.

If that happens, hospitalisations may peak around the 7-10th February, and deaths may then peak around the 18th February. The peaks for cases, hospitalisations and deaths could vary by two week either way. The variation depends on how far transmission of the virus has spread as we have returned to work and schools.

According to the Office of National Statistics, 1 in 15 residents of England were infected with Omicron on December 31st. It is not hard to see how this very high rate of infection on return to work and school will generate a further outbreaks.

The better news is that although hospitalisations and deaths are still rising in Lancashire, the rates of translation into intensive care admissions or deaths are now much lower than was the case with previous variants. Serious illness and deaths have been transformed by the very high level of both ‘infection acquired immunity’, from having already had Covid, and vaccinated immunity.

The Office of National statistics has just published new research on Long Covid rates. Long Covid is defined as having at least one symptom at five or 12 weeks from being infected.

It is often experienced as a collection of separate symptoms (a syndrome) which typically include extreme fatigue, breathlessness, and muscle weakness.

The latest Long Covid estimates show that 22.1% of people who have had Covid were still reporting at least one symptom at 5 weeks following COVID-19 infection and 9.8% still had symptoms at 12 weeks. For many, the long covid symptoms will eventually resolve themselves. We don’t yet know the percentage of people with Long Covid for whom it will be a lifelong as a ‘long term condition’.

So – please, get vaccinated, reduce any unnecessary social contacts, and stick to the current Plan B measures. Also, please be patient and kind with NHS and social care staff who are working their socks off. They will be trying to do their best with at least 10% of their colleagues likely to absent and self-isolating for some periods over the next few weeks.