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Kent Covid-19 rate hits highest level as 372 people from county die with virus in November

Kent's coronavirus infection rate has hit its highest ever level despite the month-long national lockdown, with deaths rising 10-fold in November.

Latest figures show there were more county cases in the week up to Sunday than in any other since the pandemic struck.

The number of hospital patients with Covid-19 has risen 40% in a week. Stock picture
The number of hospital patients with Covid-19 has risen 40% in a week. Stock picture

At the same time, pressure on local NHS services has intensified, with close to 700 Covid-19 patients in Kent's hospitals at the start of the week.

The number of people dying with the virus has also soared, with November's death toll almost 10 times higher than October's.

Taken together, the figures suggest there is little hope of the county dropping into Tier 2 on December 16.

When the government announced Kent would be in Tier 3 its infection rate stood at 281 weekly cases per 100,000 people.

By November 29, the date for which the most complete data is available, it had risen to 298 - the highest recorded for both.

By comparison, the rate for England on the same day was 154 - down almost 25% on the week.

Swale's infection rate remains the county's - and England's - highest, at 578, but a sharp rise has started to slow.

In neighbouring Medway, however, the rate has shot up 27% in a week to 560, suggesting it will soon take the top spot nationally.

Worrying rises have also been recorded in Ashford (42%), Maidstone (40%) and Folkestone and Hythe (23%) - areas which had until recently escaped the higher rates seen elsewhere in the county.

It leaves just two areas of Kent - Sevenoaks and Tunbridge Wells - reporting a drop in cases, potentially denting the possibility of a more localised tier system being adopted before Christmas.

But infection rates alone will not decide whether restrictions can be relaxed, with pressure on local NHS services another key factor.

However, the picture in Kent and Medway's hospitals gives little cause for optimism.

On Monday, there were 658 patients in hospital with Covid-19 across the county - 40% more than the week before - with 44 of them on a ventilator.

Not every patient is being treated because of the virus, but all would have tested positive for Covid-19.

The same can be said for the staggering number of coronavirus deaths recorded across Kent and Medway last month.

A spike in coronavirus cases which started in September - when there were three recorded deaths in the whole month - has been followed by a surge in the number of people dying.

In October, 39 lost their lives within 28 days of testing positive for the virus, with this number rising to 372 in November.

Areas which have recorded the highest rates have been worst hit.

Of the 176 people from Swale who have died with Covid-19 since the pandemic struck, 74 lost their lives in November.

In the same month, 47 people from Thanet died - accounting for 27% of its total death toll.

At the other end of the scale, just 3% of Ashford's Covid-19 deaths were recorded in November, with five people dying.

A monumental rise in testing since July explains why rates in the second wave are much higher than during the first - more people are being tested, so more cases are being found.

But an estimated 10% increase in testing between October and November does not explain why Kent and Medway cases have risen 11-fold.

Figures show there were 672 positive tests in the first week of October, and 7,427 in the last week of November.

It is hoped mass testing will eventually help bring the infection rate down, with the military yesterday helping to set up a centre at the University of Kent's Medway campus.

A pilot scheme will test all key workers in the community, whether they are showing symptoms or not, and deliver results in about 30 minutes.

With more people being tested, case numbers will likely rise initially, but identifying asymptomatic carriers who would then isolate is seen as the way to contain outbreaks.

It is hoped the percentage of tests returning a positive result will drop from 15% to 5% in Medway.

Soldiers at the Medway testing centre
Soldiers at the Medway testing centre

On mass asymptomatic testing, KCC's public health director, Andrew Scott-Clark, said: "We are likely to see cases rise, but it also allows us to trace outbreaks and ask people to self-isolate, so while cases may initially increase, we envisage a decline in future further transmission rates and thus case numbers.

"We will be targeting those people who have the biggest exposure to the virus in the districts with the highest prevalence of Covid-19 first, so that we can begin to bring down the rates quickly in those areas and therefore help the whole of Kent move out of Tier 3 as quickly as possible."

The Government is set to review its tiering system on December 16, with any changes announced the following day and coming into effect on December 19.

For the latest coronavirus news and advice, click here.

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