Test regularly to stave off new Omicron variant, says Kirklees health chief

A health boss has encouraged people to have regular tests for Covid-19 in an attempt to stave off cases of the new coronavirus variant Omicron.

Friday, 3rd December 2021, 3:00 pm
Rachel Spencer-Henshall

Rachel Spencer-Henshall, the director of public health for Kirklees Council, said even though the borough’s vaccination rates were positive she was mindful of concerns around the emergence of Omicron.

And she underlined the existing guidelines around testing: a PCR test if someone exhibits symptoms and a lateral flow test if they are asymptomatic.

Speaking at a meeting of the council’s health and well-being board on Thursday, she said: “Given the fact that we’re trying to manage a possible new variant, what a PCR test enables the lab to do is genetically sequence any result.

Sign up to our daily Dewsbury Reporter Today newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“That means we’ll get a better idea very quickly whether we are dealing with a different variant.

“For the purposes of trying to protect at population level, the more people that do PCR tests, the better.

“The rule is: if you have symptoms of Covid [then] getting a PCR test is by far the best way to make sure that you’ve got the most accurate result possible.

“But an LFT test, especially if you can’t get to a PCR testing site, will give you an ability to detect at least if you are carrying a high viral load but potentially don’t have as many symptoms as perhaps others would.”

Across Kirklees 384,959 people are eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine. Current figures are:

Fully vaccinated with booster: 30.7 per cent.

Fully vaccinated with no booster: 41.1 per cent.

Partially vaccinated: 7.3 per cent.

Unvaccinated: 20.9 per cent.

Ms Spencer-Henshall said staff had been working hard to access care homes and housebound patients to ensure older people received booster jabs. She said there was “good coverage” in the district.

She identified what she described as “a difference in uptake” in the most deprived areas which would be met by setting up pop-up vaccination centres.

Kirklees has done “particularly well” with vaccinating under-18s, reflecting the effort put into the campaign to reach 12-15 year-olds.

She said excess deaths were comparable to the last five years and that there had been a reduction in the number of Covid-related hospital admissions and Covid in-patients.

Infection rates had dropped “quite considerably” with Kirklees presenting the lowest rate in West Yorkshire – 262 per 100,000 – and well below the England average of 440 per 100,000.

Based on its most recent figures Kirklees is also ranked 145th out of 149 local authorities for weekly cases of coronavirus.

She added: “It feels like that’s positive news but obviously it’s a real stressful time at the moment to make sure that that continues.”

In the recent weeks Golcar and the Colne Valley wards have had the highest number of cases but numbers are generally decreasing.

In the last week Slaithwaite/Linthwaite, Birkby, and Holmfirth/New Mill/Hepworth have seen the highest infection rates with 39, 38 and 36 cases each.

Ms Spencer-Henshall said: “We get these pockets where it bubbles up in one area. Then that gets dampened down and contained. Then it’ll pop up somewhere else.

“Sometimes that’s to do with particular events or with transmission in particular settings. But we have a good response now across the district to deal with outbreaks as they happen.”

She added: “I think it’s positive news that we are seeing a reasonably stable rate amongst all the population groups and significantly low in our older population, who we know will be most affected.”