Published: 16:00, 19 May 2020
| Updated: 16:26, 19 May 2020
A simple reason has been suggested as to why one district in Kent has one of the highest coronavirus infection rates in the country.
Cllr Paul Bartlett (Con), deputy leader of Ashford Borough Council, cited high levels of testing as the answer to why the area has so many cases.
As of Monday,there were 678 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the district - a rate of 524.4 per 100,000 people.
The figure stands as the third-highest in England out of all lower tier local authorities, and nearly double that of the county as a whole.
Cllr Bartlett said: "The first point to make is that this is confirmed cases, not deaths.
"The William Harvey hospital started testing its staff very early on in the process and a lot of those workers live in Ashford and the surrounding areas.
"So I think that's going to cause an abnormality in the numbers.
"We also had a mobile testing centre in Ashford twice in the last couple of weeks, on North Park.
"These two factors cause Ashford to be an unusual case, and I genuinely think people should not worry about it because I don't think it's symptomatic of the disease being more widespread here."
Speaking to the importance of testing to combat the ongoing crisis, the deputy leader said: "Ashford has been at the forefront of testing for Covid-19, something which the government is keen to encourage, and testing remains a vital weapon in our battle against the pandemic."
Cliftonville West, in Thanet, was recently revealed to have the highest number of deaths related to Covid-19 in the county.
Residents in the area were concerned people ignoring government guidelines had resulted in the high number of fatalities, and were urging those people to take lockdown seriously.
But Cllr Bartlett said he did not believe lockdown flouters to be the cause of the high number of infections in Ashford.
He said: "I can definitely say I've not had reports of people ignoring social distancing in Ashford, in Victoria Park and other areas.
"I'm pretty sure had there been lots of instances, people would have been onto their local councillors."
Despite the deputy leader's assertions, Ashford MP Damian Green urged residents to remain vigilant as the pandemic continues.
He said: "People shouldn't panic but they should be careful and cautious."
Responding to his constituency's high infection rate, Mr Green said: "In the early days of the crisis we did in Ashford have big problems in care homes, and coupled with that we have a large hospital where many cases were recorded.
"Obviously it's a disappointing figure, but one that reflects the early weeks of the crisis and not the current situation.
"We know as of now the pandemic is largely confined to hospitals and care homes. The amount of infection in the community is very small and we need to keep it low in scale."
Mr Green alluded to greater testing playing a major part in the response to coronavirus over the coming months, including a contact tracing app.
He said if plans to administer regional lockdowns in high infection areas like Ashford were ever considered, they could only work with mass testing.
"Obviously it's a disappointing figure, but one that reflects the early weeks of the crisis and not the current situation..."
He said: "I'm dubious about regional lockdowns, particularly around London and the surrounding area, because people could simply cross the borders.
"I think that would put a huge strain on the police.
"The concept of specific lockdowns would be better if, for example, there's a flare up in one particular town, but to do that we need high levels of testing and tracking.
"The other thing coming is the full roll-out of the contact tracing as well as testing.
"Part of it will be an app which we've trialled on the Isle of Wight, but the other will be 18,000 people they are recruiting to interview people with symptoms, and asking them who they've contacted and getting in touch with those people."
Elsewhere in Ashford, some people are concerned the worst is yet to come.
Jasper Bouverie, from Wye, has been working with other residents to provide services to the most vulnerable people in the village.
Despite the low number of coronavirus cases in Wye, Mr Bouverie said people are bracing themselves.
He said: "Wye has been very lucky because we don’t have many cases, and we’ve certainly had no deaths.
"We have been concerned that because we’ve been lucky, that the relaxation of the lockdown might be resulting in people being a little more casual than might be a good idea.
"It hasn’t helped that the rules sent down by central government haven’t been particularly clear."
He added: "There’s a small minority of people you could see were pushing the boundaries even before Boris’ announcement.
"I think everyone is bracing themselves for a second spike, and let's hope it doesn’t happen."
More by this authorOliver Kemp