Hope that vaccine roll-out and mass testing will provide route out of lockdown as regional R rate drops

  • Watch a report from ITV Anglia's Graham Stothard

Both the vaccination programme and mass testing initiatives are being stepped up in the fight to lower infection rates and ease the coronavirus restrictions.

In Hertfordshire and Northamptonshire lateral flow testing is being introduced to identify asymptomatic cases, particularly in people who are unable to work from home.

It comes as the government R rate - the speed at which the virus spreads - for the East of England was reduced. Taking into account data up to 18 January, it is estimated the R rate in the region is 0.6-0.9; the week before it was 1.1-1.3.

Cases are continuing to fall, with every local authority except South Norfolk recording a weekly reduction in the number of positive cases in the week to 17 January.

However, the overall case rate remains high and the regional infection rate of 499.9 cases per 100,000 people is still higher than the national average.

Friday, 22 January, also saw the highest daily total of deaths reported in the Anglia region since the start of the pandemic. The NHS announced that 215 patients died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19.

In Hertfordshire, lateral flow tests which provide a result within 45 minutes will be administered at pop-up sites across the county.

Meanwhile, residents in Northamptonshire have been invited to use two new sites at the University of Northampton and the Lodge Park Sports Centre in Corby.

In Luton the Borough Council have been using the lateral flow tests for several months, and the town's director of public health Lucy Hubber claimed they have prevented thousands of cases.

She said: "What we know from these tests is that we've identified nearly 1,700 cases, which otherwise wouldn't have been picked up.

"That means that we've potentially prevented 6,000, 7,000 cases of Covid-19 from those people isolating from a positive rapid Covid-19 test."

The push to vaccinate those most vulnerable to coronavirus is also expanding, with the creation of a new dedicated site for Northamptonshire at the Royal Pavilion on the Moulton Park industrial estate in Northampton.

However, there are fears the roll-out has become a postcode lottery, with some areas giving jabs to a much higher proportion of over-80s.

Suffolk had one of the slowest starts to the vaccination programme; at one point the county had given jabs to the fewest proportion of over-80s anywhere in the UK.

Dr Thérèse Coffey, who represents Suffolk Coastal in Parliament said: "I know it is frustrating, it’s actually rather distressing, that people feel they’ve been left behind but I can assure them that the contacts are happening and any constituents of course can get in touch with me."

Speaking to ITV Anglia, Dr Coffey also said there should be "more transparency" when it comes to the vaccine roll-out - see the full interview here.

Her cabinet colleague, Environment Secretary George Eustice said any issues with supply would smooth themselves out.

He said: "At the moment the main restriction on getting this vaccine deployed is manufacturing capacity and both the manufacturers that we're using vaccines from are trying to step up their production and we're deploying everything they're offering us.

"Parts of the country are deploying the vaccine a bit faster than others, there are local variances which we will be looking to iron out but as vaccines become available we want to be getting it out to communities as quickly as possible."