THIS weekend, the Prime Minister is working on the English ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown.

This ‘roadmap’ will set out how Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, and how the economy will be restarted — and will be revealed to the public on Monday, February 22.

Although it’s thought that the re-opening of classrooms is the government’s top priority in the plan, Boris Johnson has said he is focusing on ‘data, not dates’, leading to a ‘cautious and prudent’ approach so that any relaxations are ‘irreversible’.

With this methodology in mind, this edition of the Local Democracy Reporting Service Weekend Feature will see how Cheshire’s coronavirus position has changed during the third lockdown — focusing on data on infection rates, vaccines, hospital admissions, and deaths.

How have infection and death rates changed?

Cheshire entered the third lockdown on January 5, with Cheshire West’s 7-day infection rate 592 cases per 100,000 residents.

In Cheshire East, it was 484.4.

Day one of lockdown wasn’t actually the peak of the county’s infection rates — that was a day earlier, when Boris Johnson made the announcement, with CEC’s rate at 497.7 and CWAC’s was 625.8.

46 days later, the latest statistics from Public Health England show CEC’s rate as 120 and CWAC’s as 133.2.

Although these are significant decreases for which we should all be proud of, health officials have been worried that this downward trend is not as sharp as hoped.

CWAC Director of Public Health Ian Ashworth said: “That ski slope [of case rates] is more of a beginners’ slope coming down. I think my main message is we do not lift off early — otherwise we will see that explosion in cases.

“They are just not going down as quickly as we would have seen in the summer so it is vital we keep that spread down further.”

And you can see evidence for Mr Ashworth’s ‘beginners ski slope’ below.

Northwich Guardian: Infection rates. Orange line = CWAC, Green = CEC. Data: PHEInfection rates. Orange line = CWAC, Green = CEC. Data: PHE

Sadly, some of those who contract Covid-19 go on to die. There is a lag time of at least two weeks from first symptoms to death — according to Harvard University School of Public Health research — so a spike in the case rate will not be mirrored in death statistics immediately.

In CEC, the death rate peaked around January 24, with an average of 7.4 victims in the previous 7-day window.

That was also the same day CWAC saw its death rate peak, at 7.9 — although it recorded the same figure on January 19 and 20, too.

All of these dates are between two-and-three-weeks after the high point in the infection rates, and thankfully those figures have fallen, to 2.6 in CEC and 5 in CWAC.

At the time of writing, 119,387 people have died within 28 days of a positive test in the UK.

It’s a mind-numbing statistic that can barely be understood, especially when the loss of one person close to you can be overwhelming.

How has pressure on the NHS changed?

The two themes to be looked at here are hospitalisations and vaccines.

In terms of hospital admissions, you can see from the graph below that pressure peaked around January 20 — with almost 300 Covid patients at the Countess of Chester, over 200 in Mid Cheshire hospitals, and more than 100 in East Cheshire facilities.

Northwich Guardian: All Covid patients in Cheshire NHS Trust facilities. Data: NHS EnglandAll Covid patients in Cheshire NHS Trust facilities. Data: NHS England

As the lockdown has cut transmission rates, patient numbers have dropped — to such an extent that no Trust had more than 100 on February 16.

That’s the first time that’s happened since November 18, and is testament to the resilience of NHS staff for battling through unimaginable turmoil to continue caring for residents.

On the other side of things, data for the vaccine roll-out is only cumulative, so it’s best to assess where Cheshire is now.

CEC leader Sam Corcoran said the programme is going ‘exceptionally well’, and the latest information (as of February 14) shows that 117,387 residents aged 70-plus have had their first dose of a vaccine, out of a over-70 population of 119,773 — representing a 98 per cent success rate.

Northwich Guardian: How Cheshire CCG matches up to others in the Cheshire-Merseyside region. Data: NHS EnglandHow Cheshire CCG matches up to others in the Cheshire-Merseyside region. Data: NHS England

Such is the progress of the scheme in Cheshire, it was revealed that supplies to the area were being redirected to other parts of the UK so they could ‘catch up’.

Cllr Corcoran added: “The vaccination programme, organised by NHS Cheshire CCG and local GPs, is going exceptionally well and over 90 per cent of those in the top four priority groups have been vaccinated.

“However, because the local vaccination programme has been done so well, it is understandable that the decision has been taken centrally to throttle back the supply of vaccines to Cheshire East.

“I am assured that the vaccine supply will improve by March.”

A government spokesperson said ‘vaccines are being distributed fairly across the UK to ensure the most vulnerable are immunised first and all GPs will continue to receive deliveries as planned’.

What does this mean for the end of lockdown?

Progress is never to be sniffed at, but it was always going to come with the lockdown restrictions in place.

The challenge now is to keep infection rates — and thus hospital cases and deaths — as low as possible.

That’s not only to protect the NHS in the way we have seen in 2020, but also to lower the chances of new strains developing which could be vaccine-resistant.

There’s no suggestion yet that the Kent or South African variants are immune to the vaccine, but there’s a chance it could happen.

And that’s a chance no-one wants to see — so remember the hands, face, space mantra and follow any guidance as it comes in.