Liverpool goes its own way in battle to contain the virus spike

Liverpool is used to doing things its own way.

So we should probably not be surprised that when it comes to tackling a rise in coronavirus infections, the city is trying a different approach.

While spikes in Greater Manchester have seen the whole area placed under new restrictions – despite some varying numbers from borough to borough – Liverpool's health chiefs are trying to avoid that result with a hyper-local strategy.

They admit that they don't yet know if it will work, but no one can accuse them of not being innovative and thorough in their efforts.

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As you will probably have read, Liverpool's recent 'rapid rise' in coronavirus infections has largely been localised to the L8 postcode – and specifically the Princes Park council ward area.

There are a number of reasons why a rise in cases is likely to have occurred in this area.

Public Health bosses have described household transmission as the key factor behind the increase in cases, with no specific settings – such as businesses or factories – identified as a root cause.

The infections identified in the Princes Park ward have largely been picked up by those in the 20 to 40 years bracket, followed by the 50 to 59 bracket – so it is the working age population initially becoming infected.

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What health chiefs think has really added to the community transmission in the area is the fact that in many cases there are inter-generational households in the ward, so the virus has found it easy to move around different age groups.

When the initial rise in cases was identified, it was found that 50% of the cases had come from just seven households, which clearly identified that household transmission was at the heart of the spike.

90% of the properties in the Princes Park ward are in the Band A for Council Tax, which is the lowest end of property values – and health chiefs believe larger families living in these smaller houses has been a reason behind the spread of the virus.

It is of particular concern that older people and particularly older people in the BAME community are amongst the most susceptible to the worst impacts of the virus, which is why Liverpool's Public Health team immediately launched their specific local strategy for Princes Park.

You may have read that a number of local authorities are now launching their own form of track and trace system for the virus because they don't feel the national system is thorough enough.

Liverpool started doing this as soon as the Princes Park spike was identified.

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Director of Public Health Matt Ashton and his team immediately recognised that the specific factors around the area meant that a tailored, community-led approach was needed to spread important public health messages and try and trace the journey of the virus in the community.

Liverpool 8 is the city postcode with the largest proportion of BAME residents and there were some cultural and language challenges identified that meant assistance from within the community was essential.

From the start, local faith leaders, community figures and volunteers from organisations like the Liverpool Region Mosque Network were brought on board, briefed and asked to join council staff in pounding the streets and knocking on doors to both spread the word but also help to trace where the virus may have already been.

While NHS Track and Trace system tracks who infected people have been in contact with in the previous 48 hours, Liverpool's team wanted to know who had met them in the past two weeks.

Mr Ashton said he has been 'blown away' by the response from those within the community and their efforts to help their fellow residents.

These efforts, coupled with the strong and targeted communications from the council around practical safety measures – such as staying out of other homes and maintaining shielding for the vulnerable – have formed a powerful hyper-local approach to meet this challenge.

The numbers responding are encouraging, 70 people got tested at the Princes Park pop-up centre on the first Saturday after measures were announced, it was 100 the next day and even more the day after.

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Other proactive measures have seen the council arrange for all taxi and private hire drivers to get a test, even if they don't have symptoms – and for a new emergency helpline to be established to provide or signpost crucial support that the many having to self-isolate will now rely on.

But the harsh reality of this virus is that it is relentless – and we are a couple of weeks away from knowing if this innovative approach has been enough to really push down those numbers and prevent stricter and wider measures being brought in.

That may well be what has to happen next.

While Mr Ashton and his team are very keen to bring the community with them in this strategy, if there is a business for example that is simply refusing to comply with safety measures then he is very clear that the council's new powers would be used to close it down.

And ultimately if none of this does enough to halt that upward trajectory then we could see Liverpool as a city going the same way as other parts of the north or Aberdeen in Scotland, with widespread lockdown measures reintroduced.

One thing is for sure, the city, its leaders and its residents are doing and trying everything they can to try and prevent that from happening.

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