‘Slip in social distancing’ may be to blame for high - and rising - coronavirus rates in Hackney, warns public health chief

Not everyone is abiding by the law to wear masks in shops. Picture: PA

Not everyone is abiding by the law to wear masks in shops. Picture: PA - Credit: PA

Hackney’s health chief believes a slip in social distancing may be the reason behind the borough seeing the highest rise in coronavirus cases in the whole of London – and thinks the government’s “confusing message” may be to blame.

Although socialising between households is allowed under the current government guidelines, it is also the “main way that the infection is spreading from person to person” in Hackney at the moment, according to Sandra Husbands, Hackney’s public health director.

In the past fortnight there have been a further 84 new cases recorded - up from 77 in the two weeks up to July 28.

These cases are flagged up when people who suspect they have symptoms undergo a test, but according to Dr Husbands, nearly half of Londoners don’t know how to get one, which is another “major hurdle” in controlling the spread of the virus. This means there could be other people infected in Hackney on top of the recorded cases.

Across London the R value or reproductive rate, could be as high as 1.1, meaning that the virus could still be spreading.

On July 4 the government changed its recommendation to maintain a social distance of two metres, to introduce the “one metre plus” rule - which meant that members of the public could be 1 metre away from each other. as long as measures are put in place to limit the transmission of the virus like wearing a face mask or sitting side by side.

Dr Husbands said: “People may have been confused when the government message changed from two metres to “one metre plus”. That is one thing that we want to reinforce for people, as social distancing is key. This has been confusing for people.

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“We believe that this recent increase in coronavirus cases is due to compliance with social distancing slipping as lockdown measures are eased.

She warned people “must be more careful”, adding: “The guidance is still to keep 2m distance. It’s particularly important to remember to maintain the 2m distance, as far as possible, when visiting others in their homes or having visitors in your own.”

Since lockdown eased there have been several household clusters as well as isolated cases of coronavirus dotted around the borough, and in Stamford Hill in particular.

Although Hackney is an outlier with much higher rates of infection than other London boroughs, the rates are about a quarter to a fifth of the rates in the local lockdown areas of Blackburn, Leicester, Oldham and Bradford

“In Hackney we’re not yet on the brink of a local lockdown, but that will only stay true if people comply with government guidelines, especially around social distancing,” said Dr Husbands.

“Everyone needs to know that, even if you have mild symptoms of coronavirus, you can book an NHS test by calling 119 or going to nhs.uk/coronavirus - and that this is free to all.

“If we don’t have that testing data we can’t put public health measures in place, like contact tracing, to help contain the virus. “If the virus can’t physically go from host to host then it will be stopped in its tracks.

“We want to reassure residents that we are working closely with Public Health England and our partners in the NHS to nip this in the bud, and stop these new cases from spreading.

“But we need help from all our residents. So if you have symptoms, self isolate, order a test straight away, and if you are contacted by NHS Test and Trace you must comply and self isolate.”