Decrease in Hackney’s coronavirus cases ‘could be down to dramatic drop in testing’ - as one person directed 600 miles to Inverness

A test sample being taken at a Covid-19 driving in testing centre. Picture: Danny Lawson/ PA Images.

A test sample being taken at a Covid-19 driving in testing centre. Picture: Danny Lawson/ PA Images. - Credit: PA

Hackney’s health chief thinks errors in the government’s online booking system for tests - which has directed one resident to Inverness - could be to blame for a decrease in coronavirus rates, rather than a real drop in numbers.

Infection rates for Hackney have halved from 30 to 15 per 100,000 in one week, and Stamford Hill West, Cazenove and Springfield, the three wards, the council has been “most concerned about”, have seen an even larger drop.

There were 51 diagnosed coronavirus cases in the whole of Hackney in the week up to September 8 compared to 42 the previous week - a big reduction on 84 cases diagnosed the week before that.

But the fall in infection rates has coincided with a “dramatic drop” in testing rates, particularly at the mobile test centre in Stamford Hill, according to director of public health, Sandra Husbands.

Dr Husbands believes the figures could be misleading - particularly as new coronavirus cases are rising across the UK - and has said they could be down to “errors in the online booking system directing people to the wrong test sites far afield”.

People up and down the country have complained of being asked to travel long distances from their homes to be tested - and one Hackney resident was told the nearest available site was a 10-hour drive away in Inverness.

Other people have been told there is no availability at all for both bookings and home test kits.

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Dr Husbands is worried this could mean that not enough people are being tested to pick up all the infections that are still happening.

“As public health officials we do not take action on one week of figures alone; rather we look at known epidemiological patterns, previous cases and data on numbers of people being tested and the positivity rates from those tests,” she said.

“So while the figures look promising on paper, we are still very concerned about infection rates across the borough - and particularly in the north of Hackney, where infection rates have consistently been relatively high throughout the pandemic.

“Until we have a drop in infection that is matched by sustained levels of testing, we cannot feel truly confident that we are having an impact on the virus in our communities,” she added.

The highest incidence rates are currently observed in Shacklewell where there have been seven cases in the past week, at a rate of 72 per 100,000 residents - up on last week.

Meanwhile in Hoxton East and Shoreditch there have been six cases in the past week at a rate of 44 per 100,000, and less than five cases in Hackney Wick at a rate of 31 per 100,000 residents.

Over the course of the pandemic to date about 30 per cent of all Covid-19 cases in Hackney have been diagnosed in three wards, with 126 cases in Stamford Hill West, 146 cases in Springfield and 101 casees in Cazenove.

Everyone is being urged to follow government guidance to get a test if they have symptoms of coronavirus, no matter how mild.

Symptoms include a high temperature, a new, continuous cough, a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste.

Tests can be booked online or by calling 119 - and anyone still unable to book a test online can attend a walk-up test site in Bentley Road in Dalston seven days a week, from 8am to 8pm.

This week the government announced that as of Monday, gatherings of more than six people will be banned across England because of rising infection rates.

This includes meeting in a garden, a park, outside a pub or indoors, and the only exceptions are if your household or support bubble is already larger than six people. Workplaces and schools are also exempt.