Warning to public after Herts borough reports increase in COVID-19 cases

There has been an increase in COVID-19 cases in Dacorum. Photo: Sirichai Saengcharnchai/Getty Images

There has been an increase in COVID-19 cases in Dacorum. Photo: Sirichai Saengcharnchai/Getty Images/iStockphoto. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

St Albans’ neighbouring local authority of Dacorum is reporting a massive spike in the number of COVID-19 cases.

Public Health chiefs are urging residents and businesses across the borough to take action to avoid “stronger measures”, after a rise in infection rates.

They are currently recording between four and eight new COVID-19 cases in Dacorum every day – with 11 being recorded on a single day last week.

And since August 10 they say there have been 71 recorded cases of the virus in the borough, with more possible when figures for the Bank Holiday weekend are released.

The cases are believed to have initially stemmed from an outbreak focussed on a small number of pubs and cafés in the Tring and Berkhamstead areas.

But, says director of public health Jim McManus, cases are no longer focussed on young people – but have spread to the general community.

And he is warning residents and businesses that action needs to be taken now, “to nip this in the bud” and to stop it getting worse in Dacorum.

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Mr McManus stresses that most licensed venues have done “great work” in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

But now all cafés, pubs and restaurants in Dacorum are to be warned “of the imminent threat to their businesses, of a local lockdown if they don’t follow stringently, the existing guidance”.

And that means steps such as keeping the contact details of all customers, complying with ‘test and trace’, ensuring social distancing and cleaning.

Meanwhile Mr McManus is urging all residents to remember to wear face masks, to keep a ‘social distance’ and to wash hands regularly.

And he is urging people to contact NHS 119 if they believe they may have been in touch with people who may have the virus.

“If everybody does their bit we will not need stronger measures,” he told a virtual press conference yesterday.

Executive member for public health Cllr Tim Hutchings says there is concern that not everyone has been following the guidance.

Some, he says, have neglected to follow the guidance, maybe out of a sense of reluctance to ‘dob their mates in’.

But others he says – pointing to a group of young people who shared a car to be tested for the virus – have made mistakes.

“The purpose is to encourage good practice and reduce the need for more robust actions,” he said.

“We don’t want to introduce any more restrictions – that’s not what we are hoping to do.

“[. . .] At the end of the day it’s how people behave that will determine how much or otherwise the infection spreads.”

Cllr Hutchings stresses that the rate of infection in Dacorum is a long way from the rates in areas in the north of the country that have COVID restrictions.

But he points to the speed at which cases in Hertfordshire reached a peak between the end of March and April.

Meanwhile it has emerged that more ‘test and trace’ functions are being conducted by Hertfordshire environmental health officers – in addition to the National Track and Trace teams.

Director of public health Jim McManus says there’s a belief that it can be done locally in a way that is ‘faster’ and with greater knowledge about a local situation.

He pointed to the size of the county and the advantage of having knowledge of local areas, as well as community languages.

And he suggests residents are more likely to pick up the phone to a local call, than one that has been made nationally.