LAST Friday Kirklees was put on a watch list after case numbers in the area spiked due to outbreaks of the Indian variant of Covid-19.

Two parts of the district which have been particularly afflicted are Heckmondwike and Liversedge, where case numbers have more than doubled in a week and infection rates have shot up.

But why have these areas in particular been affected, and what is being done on the ground to try and solve the problem?

Eight areas are on heightened alert following spikes in cases related to the Indian variant, which was allowed into the country as travellers came to the UK from India, which is in the grip of a Covid-19 crisis.

At it’s peak it was recording more than 400,000 new cases and more than 4,000 deaths a day at the start of May. India was eventually added to the UK’s travel red list, but critics of the Government say it acted too slow in bringing the restriction in, allowing thousands of potential variant carriers back into the community without being quarantined.

Kirklees is one such area, with Liversedge and Heckmondwike, as well as Dewsbury, parts of Batley and areas of central Huddersfield particularly affected.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Darker colours denote higher infection rates in Heckmondwike and LiversedgeDarker colours denote higher infection rates in Heckmondwike and Liversedge

In the week to May 22, the Liversedge, Littletown and Millbridge area saw cases rise by 700 per cent from the week before, and it now has a rolling infection rate of 256.3 infections per 100,000 people, while in Heckmondwike Town, Norristhorpe and Roberttown cases have gone up by 222 per cent, and the rate now sits at 355.3.

Across Kirklees, the rate is currently 108.7, and infections are up 51 per cent from a week earlier.

Liversedge and Gomersal Councillor Melanie Stephen said it was always expected there would be a rise in cases following Step Three of the roadmap, which saw indoor socialising return, and acknowledged the emergence of the Indian variant came at the worst possible time.

She said: “There was always going to be a rise with people getting together indoors so hopefully that’s what this is and what was planned for.

“As long as it doesn’t transfer to hospitalisations and deaths, fingers crossed this is just part of the roadmap plan, which was obviously drawn up before the Indian variant was a thing.

“We expected a surge, but it’s bad luck that it came at the same time as a more transmissible variant.”

She added that most cases of the variant seem to be occurring among young people – who are not yet vaccinated – with older people more resistant to the new strain.

Surge testing has commenced in areas hit by spikes in cases, and it has proven to be effective in bringing rates down in the past in the UK.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Kirklees Council leader Shabir PandorKirklees Council leader Shabir Pandor

In Liverpool in November, mass testing was used to try and contain rapid rises in cases by identifying asymptomatic cases to stop the unknown spread of Covid, with scientists concluding it was a helpful tool in identifying cases.

However, there was no clear evidence of the impact it had on Covid cases, and some areas of the city, particularly young people and deprived neighbourhoods, were hard to reach so while surge testing can help stop the spread, but by how much is not fully clear.

These hard to reach residents are set to be targeted by Kirklees’ Community Champions initiative which is set to launch immediately.

The scheme will see people going into communities to speak with the public and hear their concerns over Covid and the vaccine, and what is causing their hesitancy in getting it.

It’s hoped these community champions will be able to overcome fears and identify how they can be addressed, giving a more visible face to the messaging from the council that people can directly interact with.

Cllr Stephen said she hopes people will “open up and talk about their concerns” and champions will help allay fears to fill the gaps in vaccine coverage that remain.

One distinct advantage Kirklees has now compared to the surge testing last year is the vaccine rollout, which Council leader Shabir Pandor was keen to highlight.

Mr Pandor said: “Our rates may be high, but our hospital admissions are very low, and the vaccine uptake is high.

“We are doing a lot more work with Government in terms of surge testing and booster vaccinations, so we are doing everything plus more, so to hear the new restrictions just doesn’t make sense.”

Cllr Stephen backed the leader’s point, adding: “Our vaccine centres are working miraculously fast and we haven’t had any slump in the rollout.

“I hope that will keep up and through June and July we can get everyone vaccinated and I’m confident that everyone will be offered it.

“It’s looks like the vaccines work against the Indian variant and I’m confident in the system is working well and will continue to do so. We need to focus on getting vaccinated as well as everyone following the rules.”

In Kirklees, 63.9 per cent of all adults had received at least one dose of the Covid jab as of May 23, with 41.5 per cent having received both doses.

Less than one Covid death a week has been recorded across the whole district, and only 16 people are in hospital with Covid across Kirklees’ two NHS Trusts, one of which includes all of Calderdale and the other includes the entire Wakefield district.

However, in these two areas the numbers are higher, for the first dose in Liversedge, Littletown and Millbridge it is 65 per cent and for second doses it is 44.7 per cent, while in Heckmondwike Town, Norristhorpe and Roberttown it is 73.9 per cent for the first dose and for the second it is 51.5 per cent.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The vaccine rollout continues apace. Pic: PAThe vaccine rollout continues apace. Pic: PA

Moving forward, while Cllr Pandor had worried the rules may cause confusion, Cllr Stephen hoped that now more clarity has been brought by government that everything will be clearer for people in her area.

“It’s good to know we are a hotspot,” she said, “so people can be more vigilant, but no laws have changed, people don’t have to change their plans.

“It’s down to personal choice and considering your personal circumstances, and hopefully that message has got out to everyone.”

As long as hospitalisations and deaths remain low, people take up the vaccine when offered it, and people who test positive for Covid-19 properly self-isolate, this bump in the path out of Covid should remain just that and allow everyone in Liversedge, Heckmondwike, Kirklees and the rest of the UK to get back to normality soon.