One year on from the first reported case in Leicestershire, COVID-19 cases are finally starting to drop across the county after a period of winter stagnation that subverted the national trend.
Case rates in Charnwood dropped to 119 per 100,000 – the lowest in the borough since the middle of December – and fell by a third in the last 7 days.
In Loughborough, cases on the last day of February dropped to their lowest since December 14th, with the lockdown finally demonstrating its effectiveness in the town.
Cases had initially struggled to drop in the town, with the mandatory return of 300 additional students to campus at the start of February resulting in a brief increase in cases, which has since subsided.
Whilst the University has not reported any case data since the 23rd of February, cases had until then remained at a low level on campus, with the University area reporting a relatively low number of cases, besides the week immediately after the first batch of students returned.
Despite some students returning at the start of the month, the area with an explosion of cases over the last 28 days was the student-minority Lemyngton area, which recorded 141 cases compared to the University’s 50.
Shelthorpe and Woodthorpe also represented a significant number of the town’s cases in February, with 101 positive cases back.
The vast majority of these cases have remained amongst the under-60s age range in Charnwood, with just 18% of cases amongst those in the ‘at-risk’ age categories, with vaccinations now open for those aged between 55-59 in the region.
However, when compared to the national picture, it is clear that cases have not been reducing in the town at the same rate as the rest of England.
Additional students have been asked to return on the 8th, alongside primary and secondary schools opening, which could lead to a further increase in cases in university-dom as more students return.
The University, which is operating a compulsory weekly testing programme for all students, will be hoping that students continue to abide by the rules as the restrictions are relaxed to hold back against a possible additional wave.
However, despite the rate remaining above the national average in the town, there is no expectation that restrictions won’t be eased as planned on the 29th March to allow for small, outdoor gatherings.
Whilst the stark reality of the pandemic has been clear for months, it is at milestones like this week’s – a year on from the first case in the county – that we can reflect on the true scale of the pandemic.
In Leicestershire alone, since the start of the pandemic, there have been:
[dropcap style=square]77,000[/dropcap] cases across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland
[dropcap style=square]2,300[/dropcap] lives lost across the county as a result of coronavirus
[dropcap style=square]4,000[/dropcap] people treated in hospital for coronavirus and discharged
[dropcap style=square]342,885[/dropcap] vaccinations in the county by the end of February
[dropcap style=square]24,037[/dropcap] reports of COVID breaches and 2,582 penalty notices issued by Leicestershire Police
Mike Sandys, director of public health for Leicestershire County Council said that “The realities of the pandemic are stark… and there are thousands of families in our area who have lost loved ones and my thoughts are with all those affected.”
“It’s been a relentless year for everyone – but our role remains keeping people safe.”
To remember those lives which have been lost to the pandemic, and to commemorate key workers who have kept the town running, plans for a “Hope Bell” have been revealed by the leader of the Borough Council.
The new bell would be part of a new clock installation alongside four additional, smaller bells – potentially located in Queen’s Park at the centre of Loughborough.
Cllr Jonathan Morgan, the leader of Charnwood Borough Council said that the council “want to create something that could act as a focal point for remembrance and reflection while also being a symbol of hope.”
“We also want to create something that is uniquely connected to our area”, he added, “and Loughborough has been synonymous with bells for hundreds of years.”