Published: 06:00, 12 September 2020
A spike in coronavirus cases across Kent is expected to continue to rise following the return of children to school, a public health expert has warned.
Latest figures show positive tests across the county have risen to their highest level for two months, with 178 new cases recorded last week - almost treble the 66 seen in the week up to August 18.
It marks the sharpest rise in Kent since the start of the pandemic, but the rate of new infections is still 57% lower than across England as a whole.
However, Kent County Council's director of public health, Andrew Scott-Clark, says he expects there to be more new cases now children are back in the classroom.
He was speaking as a number of schools in Kent have already been forced to tell pupils to self-isolate amid a series of positive tests.
Mr Scott-Clark said: "We are seeing a rise in cases locally and nationally, and although Kent is below the England average, we clearly need to keep reminding residents how important it is that they play their part to help protect themselves and others, particularly the most vulnerable members of the community who are most at risk from severe symptoms.
"It is expected that we will see more cases now children have returned to school and people go back to workplaces, but more importantly we are working with our partners across Kent, including Public Health England and the NHS, to monitor where cases are occurring and whether there are larger widespread community outbreaks."
Mr Scott-Clark added that more testing is being carried out across the county, although a regional breakdown of the numbers is not published by Public Health England.
The authority does, however, provide daily figures for the number of positive tests recorded in Kent and its districts.
On Sunday, there were 42 new cases - the highest daily figure for more than 12 weeks.
Swale has seen the biggest spike in positive tests and currently has the highest infection rate in the county.
Last week, there were 29 new cases in the borough, compared to zero in the week up to August 16.
Swale Borough Council leader Roger Truelove said yesterday that cases in the region remained "relatively low" , but urged people not to be complacent.
While new cases across the county are rising, they are still well below those seen at the peak of the pandemic, when 209 people tested positive in a single day on April 17.
At that time, testing was largely limited to those presenting to hospitals with serious symptoms.
On April 20, 534 hospital beds in Kent were occupied by coronavirus patients. By September 3 this number had fallen to 12.
Across the same period, the number of coronavirus patients requiring a ventilator fell from 86 to one.
Hospital deaths also fell significantly across Kent, from 187 in the week up to April 12, to one in the week up to September 3.
It remains to be seen if the recent spike in Covid-19 cases will spark a rise in hospitalisations in the coming weeks.
A spokesman for the Kent and Medway CCG - which commissions health services across the region - says the NHS is preparing for a "potential increase".
“The NHS across Kent and Medway is planning for the seasonal increase in demand for our services, as well as a potential increase in the number of coronavirus patients," he said.
“We are not currently seeing an increase in admissions to hospital from coronavirus."
While the spike in Kent is cause for some concern, the county's infection rate remains much lower than across England as a whole.
On Sunday, there were 11.3 cases per 100,000 in Kent, compared to 26.2 nationally.
The rate was 4.7 and 12 respectively on August 13, when the county's cases started to rise.
The spike across England has led to new restrictions being announced by the Government.
From Monday, with limited exceptions, it will be illegal to gather in groups of more than six indoors or outside.
Those breaching the rules face on-the-spot fines.