Preston, Chorley and South Ribble leaders react to "enhanced response area" status
Central Lancashire’s council leaders have joined forces to demand that the area is immediately given permission to vaccinate all over-18s against Covid.
The trio were responding to Lancashire as a whole being designated an “enhanced response area”, a status which comes with extra testing capacity and support to increase vaccine uptake amongst eligible groups - something which they welcome, but say is not enough.
Case rates have rocketed in the region in recent weeks - more than doubling in Chorley nearly quadrupling in Preston and leaping almost ten-fold in South Ribble in the fortnight to 3rd June, the latest date for which figures are available.
South Ribble Borough Council leader Paul Foster said that the extra support outlined by the government yesterday will help, but questioned: “Why didn’t they do it six weeks ago when we asked for it?"
“What I've asked for is vaccines for all over-18s immediately. And we need to be opening up more surgeries and mobile facilities, because it’s not that people don’t want to get vaccinated - it’s that a huge number of our community just have not got access to the vaccination centres.
“I had to travel past two vaccination sites in South Ribble to get to one in Preston - because it depends how you book it [as to where you are sent]. I’m lucky, I've got a car - but it’s disproportionately disadvantaging the poorest in our community who can’t travel - so we should take the vaccine to them,” Cllr Foster said.
He also urged ministers to “stop thinking about this free-for-all on 21st June”, when all legal restrictions could be lifted under the final stage of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown.
“I’m absolutely convinced talking to members of my community that they’d rather stick as we are now for [say] two more weeks and get on top of this, than for everything to open on the 21st and then face lockdown again later.”
Chorley Council leader Alistair Bradley said that the government should take some difficult decisions in order to give Lancashire the vaccine priority he believes the county needs.
“In my view, we need to be transferring vaccinations from areas where there are very low infection rates to areas where there are very high infection rates. We have got some areas of the country, not in the North West, that have almost zero infection rates - so why are they vaccinating everybody [at the same rate] as we are?
“We need to be vaccinating younger people with their first jab and older people who are yet to have their second.
They should be allocating [vaccine] resources up here, because they will get more bang for their buck - politically, that is difficult, but I think the UK as whole wants lower infection rates and to get back to normality. And we aren’t going to do that while they are inoculating people [elsewhere] who have very little chance of getting Covid,” Cllr Bradley said.
Meanwhile, Preston City Council leader Matthew Brown, warned of the potentially unseen impact on residents of the new guidance issued yesterday - about being cautious when mixing with people outside your own household or support bubble, meeting outside where possible and minimising travel in and out of “enhanced response” areas.
“We’ve just had cafes, restaurants and pubs reopen - how is it going to affect them? And how's it going to affect the psychological wellbeing of the community, when people were expecting this to come to an end in a week and a half?
“I’m a little frustrated and angry, because we asked for vaccine prioritisation in Preston in early March - we knew that Covid can spread into variants and within places like Preston, people don't have the same option [as some areas] of working from home - and many also live in multi-generational households.
“We asked for prioritisation and we now get this - and once again, it is too little too late,” Cllr Brown declared.