IT’S clear that concern over the re-emergence of coronavirus across the UK has accelerated in the past week.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson took to the nation’s televisions to outline new national restrictions, such as the 10pm-5am night time economy curfew, and also pleaded with Britons to follow the existing guidance to slow the spread of the disease.

Of course, the situation in the North West is even more bleak. In the latest round of infection rate data, as of September 24, nine of the ten worst boroughs in the UK were in our region.

In Cheshire West and Chester, 41.7 cases per 100,000 people were recorded — up 10 from 28.3 the previous week. That means the infection rate for the area has tripled since the end of August.

Director of Public Health for Cheshire West and Chester Ian Ashworth said that the borough has ‘not had a major outbreak but a gradual household transmission’.

He added: “We have already seen admissions increase and there is a lag time on this as well. It could be three weeks before we see deaths rise.”

That being said, the new NHS Covid-19 app has finally launched after months of delays, and the borough is adding testing capacity in the coming weeks — so where we now?

What’s the testing situation?

Nationally, the Department for Health is working towards being able to deliver 500,000 tests a day by the end of October — a tall order given that the current daily testing capacity is estimated to be 258,000.

As mentioned, the NHS Covid-19 app is being rolled out across the country, with CWAC reminding certain sectors to display QR codes which can be used to support the system by allowing users to ‘check-in’ at a location, thus making tracing close contacts easier.

CWAC leader Louise Gittins said: “The NHS Covid-19 app is a tool to break the chains of Covid-19 transmission, and help protect our health and care systems.

“If people ‘check in’ to premises using the app on their phones, they can feel confident in the knowledge they will be notified by the app if they have come into contact with someone who may have been carrying the virus, is contagious and able to pass it on, but has yet to develop symptoms.”

Alongside this, it was outlined at the borough’s Covid Outbreak Board this week that plans are in place to open testing sites in Northwich and Winsford, complimenting Chester’s Little Roodee facility.

While CWAC welcomes the additional capacity, it’s still pushing for more control from the government on a testing front, with Val Armstrong - portfolio holder public health - telling the LDRS that ‘the current system is not working for us and we would do a much better job of it.’

The crux of a lot of gripes on testing is just how many residents the UK-wide system misses, with a third of all close contacts of those with a positive test in Cheshire West not being reached by the national contact tracers.

That’s compared to a UK average of 74 percent of close contacts being informed, so the borough lags behind in that regard.

These missed contacts are then passed on to the local test and trace teams after 24 hours, which increases the likelihood of residents coming into contact with someone who has the virus.

Time delays are further exacerbated by the fact that currently just 28 percent of people who get a test receive their results within 24 hours.

So will Cheshire West go into lockdown?

In order to be locked down, there are two basic ways to go about it: Firstly, government can impose restrictions on a region, as they did with Greater Manchester in July. Secondly, a local authority can ask for restrictions to be used if it feels its existing powers aren’t enough to keep the public safe.

Cheshire West has told the LDRS it has ‘no plans to ask for a lockdown: “The Council has no plans to request a ‘local lockdown’’.

It added: “We reiterate the importance of residents and businesses continuing to follow national public health guidance and the additional measures announced: observing the rule of six, washing hands regularly, wearing face coverings in public, keeping a social distance of two metres and getting a test when they have symptoms.”

If Cheshire West is locked down, it will be a decision mandated by the Department for Health, not within the council’s HQ.

Summing up

As case numbers rise across the north west and restrictions tighten, it’s easy to feel that there inevitably will be further regulations at the very least - or a full-blown lockdown on the horizon.

And for all of those feelings, the message is clear from CWAC: We won’t ask for a lockdown, but we need extra control over testing to arrest the infection rate - fast.