People in Northampton can get a Covid-19 test even with no symptoms if they feel they may have contracted the virus as public health chiefs insisted the threat to the town is serious.
Previously you had to be showing symptoms to get a coronavirus test but now those in the borough can be tested if they were in too close contact with someone or did not follow the social distancing rules.
The town is starting to see ‘green shoots’ of improvement in the coronavirus infection rate but it remains an ‘area of concern’ for Public Health England, a press conference heard today (Friday, July 31).
Northampton Borough Council leader Jonathan Nunn said: “If people have let their guard down and regret it, or if they have concerns about their risk of getting the virus then you should check in for a test.”
Northamptonshire County Council director for public health Lucy Wightman said it is because the weekly rate of infection in Northampton is higher than the average in Northamptonshire and England.
But she insisted the town is still not in the same league as places like Leicester and Greater Manchester who have been put into local lockdowns of differing levels.
Testing in the county has been ramped up with walk-in units in Northampton and Kettering town centres ‘for the foreseeable future‘ alongside drive-through facilities in Northampton, Corby, Daventry – that advice has now been extended to Corby.
Cllr Nunn said the borough has ‘achieved quite a lot so far’ but it is important not to get complacent and ‘keep the foot on the gas’ with the public health messages.
The advice has been designed from extensive interviews beyond contract tracing with people who have tested positive for coronavirus, Ms Wightman said.
People were found to be vigilant about sticking to the social distancing rules when at work but then forgot about them when socialising out of work, according to Cllr Nunn.
Hence the testing criteria change – he said: “If you have a genuine concern you won’t get turned away if you turn up but if you book then you won’t have to queue.”
Yet all this has happened against a backdrop on falls in the number of new cases in towns and around the county, leaving many confused as to the real situation.
Castle and Abington wards remain the areas where the infection rates are highest while Corby and Kettering are also on alert and Wellingborough is being closely monitored.
Addressing concerns about scaremongering, he said: “I don’t mind being accused of scaremongering as we know that we have got to get the message out.
“Potentially you are at a higher risk if you spend time in Northampton than in other parts of the country and those facts are irrefutable.
“I’d sooner be called scaremonger than in two or three months time be asked why I did nothing when people died or business closed. The right thing to do is to keep the message up.”
County council cabinet member for transport, highways and environment Ian Morris added:: “We wouldn’t be taking these measures if we didn’t think there was an issue in our area.
“We have to take it seriously and we understand people might be worn out by the national lockdown but we are urging people to bear with us and listen to the advice that will significantly control this virus.”
Despite the improvement, a local lockdown has not been ruled out in Northampton if the cases keep rising.
Ms Wightman and Cllrs Nunn and Morris admitted they are concerned about that possibility.
Cllr Nunn said: “Personally I’m naturally worried, I would hate to Northampton go into lockdown for many reasons.
“Firstly because it would mean a lot of people would be ill and secondly because of the economic effect especially on people’s jobs and livelihoods.”
Thursday’s latest government figures showed a total of 14 new positive tests recorded in Northamptonshire up to 9am on Thursday — 11 in Northampton, two in East Northamptonshire district and one in Corby.
No new cases have been reported in Kettering since Sunday, according to the Government’s Covid-19 Data Dashboard. Corby has registered six new cases since Thursday.
Northampton saw 54 new cases reported in the week to July 30 compared to 58 in each of the two previous weeks. The rate of infection fell from 26.36 to 24.54 per 100,000 of the population per week over the same period.
Ms Wightman explained experts take into account a string of other factors — including, links between localised outbreaks, recent regional trends and rising infection rates in nearby areas — when producing data for local officials.
To book a test, call 119 or visit nhs.uk/coronavirus.
Everything we know so far about the rising Northampton coronavirus cases and local lockdown warning