Devon in “good place” as lockdown eases

Rates down, but higher than summer.

Daniel Clark, local democracy reporter

Devon is in a “good place” to cope as restrictions  ease in the roadmap out of lockdown.

Infection rates in the county are down to 16 per 100,000 – the lowest on the England mainland, with only the Isle of Wight lower – with North Devon, the South Hams, Teignbridge, Torridge and West Devon in the bottom ten for lower tier authorities.

Dr Phil Norrey, Devon County Council’s chief executive, has told councillors cases are still declining and have dropped by 25 per cent in the last week – but further declines will be slower.

He said that while restrictions are beginning to ease and that life begins to return to normal, there will still be a public health role as we will be living with covid over the next couple of years.

And he added that with more than 100,000 tests a week being carried out in the county through community testing, schools, care homes and health settings – around 12 per cent of the population – Devon is a good position to spot anything if it occurs. Even with the reopening of schools and twice weekly testing for pupils, infection rates are lower for people up to age 19 in Devon than when schools returned on 8 March.

Speaking at the council’s corporate infrastructure and regulatory services scrutiny committee meeting, Dr Norrey said: “Rates are still coming down but have slowed and we are into the hard yards to drive them out from a relatively low position. They are still higher than last summer, but we had far fewer tests then than now, and overall rates are still coming down but slowly and bumpily.”

On the relaxation of restrictions, he added: “It is important to emphasise that it is an end to the behaviour changes so we still need to follow the precautions where possible as we are not out of the woods today and the pandemic won’t move on and we will be living with Covid over the next couple of years.

“We have a public health role as we emerge from the restrictions and our core role will be ongoing surveillance, community testing, local contact tracing including enhanced tracing which is working really well and supporting self-isolation, and to control outbreaks where they occur.

He added: “Last year we saw little evidence of transmission of the disease in outdoor settings so even if there is the usual or enhanced number of visitors, it won’t pose an increased risk based on what happened last year.”

Answering questions on the upcoming local elections, Dr Norrey said they are confident that they would run smoothly, although that there were still a few isolated issues to sort out, including that one of the proposed centres for the count is being used as a vaccination centre, and that one district may be counting on the Saturday, rather than the Friday, which could delay the result.

Cllr Alistair Dewhirst, chairman of the committee, in a message to those planning to visit Devon in the summer, added: “We will have a fantastic summer for business, but while some places may be pretty busy, other places may be as quiet as you imagine Devon to be.”