LOCKDOWN is firmly set in, and it can feel as if the Covid-19 nightmare will continue for months, which it may well do.

In light of this, this Weekend Feature will not only look at what’s worrying leaders, but the good news in Cheshire’s coronavirus fight.

So, what should we be concerned about and what is going well?

What’s of concern?

Much like the last LDRS Weekend Feature, leaders are still concerned about the amount of patients in hospital.

A week ago, half of the patients in The Countess of Chester were those being treated for Covid-19, but on Sunday the Trust’s Chief Executive — Dr Susan Gilby — said this figure was now past 60 per cent.

She Tweeted: “A week on from my plea from Chester — now 61 per cent of our beds occupied by patients who have Covid-19 disease. 

“They need our care. We are prepared to care for more, but at some considerable human cost to staff, families & those who wait non covid care. PLEASE Stay at home!”

The latest NHS England data suggests that as of Monday January 11, 258 people were being treated for coronavirus — the highest number yet during the pandemic.

It’s also an increase of 20 from when Dr Gilby revealed The Countess had the ‘highest number’ of Covid-19 patients ‘in the north west’ a week ago.

While those figures are desperately concerning, the picture in Cheshire East is marginally brighter — with the council’s Director of Public Health Dr Matt Tyrer telling the borough’s health scrutiny board on Thursday the Covid occupancy at Trusts like Mid and East Cheshire was ‘rising towards 40 per cent’.

What can be seen as even more distressing is that chiefs expect these pressures to continue for at least a fortnight.

Andrew Lewis told Wednesday’s (January 13) meeting of the CWAC Covid-19 outbreak board that ‘there’s more pressure now than at any other time of the pandemic’ and he did ‘not expect that to improve, to get better, before the end of the month, given what we know of the infection rates’.

The CWAC chief executive added: “We described an alarming increase [in cases] in the borough. The other really big issue is alleviating some pressures on hospitals.

“The NHS is under pressure, it is a really difficult task and last week we heard from Dr Susan Gilby. If she was here tonight she would say that things continue to get worse before they get better.”

Northwich Guardian: Hospital occupancy rates for the Countess of Chester (blue line), Mid Cheshire NHS Trust (grey line), and East Cheshire NHS Trust (orange). Data: NHS England. Image: LDRS.Hospital occupancy rates for the Countess of Chester (blue line), Mid Cheshire NHS Trust (grey line), and East Cheshire NHS Trust (orange). Data: NHS England. Image: LDRS.

What’s the positive news?

In a sentence the LDRS is delighted to write: Vaccinations are going well.

Since the programme began at The Countess on December 8, the amount of jabs being distributed has massively increased as more local healthcare facilities — like GP surgeries and smaller hospitals — come online to offer doses.

The work going on there will also be supported by Cheshire and Merseyside’s own ‘super-hub’, at St Helens rugby club’s Totally Wicked stadium.

It will be run by the St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, and offer thousands of syringes of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine daily when fully operational.

As with every other Covid-19 vaccine site, the NHS will contact patients when it is their turn to have the jab — and residents are being reminded not to contact the health service asking for an appointment.

All of this has fuelled some genuine belief with leaders and officials that good progress is being made in working through the top four priority groups.

Indeed, the NHS Accountable Officer overseeing the vaccine roll-out in Cheshire said she was ‘confident’ of meeting the national targets laid out by government.

Clare Watson said: “We have got three targets nationally. Although they are ambitious, they are quite helpful to have.

“By the end of January all care home residents and frontline care workers have to have their first vaccine. We are on track with that. We will meet that target.

“The other target is February 14 which is the top four priority groups being offered their vaccination. 

“We are going through all these lists and we are still confident that we can achieve our target.”

Ms Watson added that the NHS did not have ‘accurate data’ on the numbers of people taking up the vaccine in Cheshire, but it would be ‘coming soon’.

In lieu of official figures, both leaders of Cheshire’s councils came out with their own ‘guesstimates’ to how many residents in their boroughs had been seen.

On Friday (January 15) morning, CWAC’s Louise Gittins said: “Had my calculator out this morning trying to work out vaccinations delivered in [Cheshire West]. I think by early next week we could be heading for 20,000”

The Labour leader added her figure was a ‘guesstimate’ and ‘not official’, and went on to praise the ‘amazing work’ in delivering the programme.

On the same morning, her eastern counterpart Sam Corcoran took to Twitter, announcing: “The vaccination programme is going well. I estimate that about five per cent of the population of Cheshire East have already been vaccinated.

“That’s the first dose of a vaccine, either Astra-Zeneca or Pfizer.”

Too long, didn’t read

In short, pressure on hospitals is high. We all need to do our best not to increase that pressure, especially as infection rates show early signs of turning.

The ‘carrot’ in all this is that we’ve made a good start with vaccinating people in Cheshire — so should we keep at it with bringing infection rates down, the quicker the whole pandemic will conclude.