Emergency coronavirus talks for Kent’s worst-hit area

Swale recorded the biggest week-on-week jump in infection rates in the country.  Credit: ITV Meridian

Council chiefs and public health bosses met today (Monday, 23 November) to address the “concerning” rise in coronavirus cases in the Kent borough of Swale. 

It is after the area, in the north of the county, had recorded the highest infection rate in the country in the seven days to last Wednesday, 18 November.

The rolling weekly rate there currently stands at 624 cases per 100,000 people, making it the second worst in England. 

Gordon Henderson, Conservative MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey, spoke to ITV Meridian about the reason why the cases are so high.

There is also concern about rates in the Kent district of Thanet, which has 513 weekly cases per 100,000 people. Medway recorded an all-time high in its rate at the end of last week, with 319 cases per 100,000 people.

The “emergency meeting” was called by Swale Borough Council leader, Roger Truelove, and was held virtually. 

Among those invited were representatives from Kent County Council, Kent Police, HM Prison Service, the Department for Work and Pensions and the voluntary sector.

Speaking to ITV News Meridian last week, Cllr Trulove said he “expected” the government to announce the introduction of mass testing in Swale this week.

The borough covers the towns of Faversham and Sittingbourne, as well as the Isle of Sheppey.

A Kent County Council spokesperson said: “We are planning and liaising with the Department of Health and Social Care regarding supplies of Lateral Flow [Testing] Devices.”

After the meeting, Councillor Roger Truelove said:

"We received the very latest figures from our public health colleagues, and these showed that whilst we do seem to be starting to see a fall in cases locally, they are clearly still too high.

There are also worrying signs that the infection is growing among the over-60’s who are more vulnerable to this virus, and we are sadly starting to see the number of deaths increase.

We also heard that Swale has the second highest level of testing in the county, which shows that the work we’ve been doing to encourage people with symptoms to get tested is getting through, and it will ultimately make a difference.

 We also had confirmation that only 12 per cent of cases in the last couple of weeks are related to care homes and prison settings, and that this isn’t a problem that is just on the Isle of Sheppey, but elsewhere across the borough.

 The overwhelming majority of cases are through community transmission. It’s spreading in residential settings, and through social activity and it only takes a small number of people to create the clusters of cases that are driving up our figures."