During a virtual cabinet meeting on Tuesday (January 4), Hastings Borough Council’s managing director Jane Hartnell told councillors that the town’s latest infection rate sat at 1,049 per 100,000 — a similar level to the infection rates during last year’s lockdown.
But Ms Hartnell also warned that the true infection was likely to be higher than what is currently reported.
She said: “I am advised by public health and environmental health colleagues that these numbers are artificially low, due to the reduction in testing due to the lack of availability of tests and people being less likely to test over the new year and bank holiday periods.
“We will be getting more accurate data in the next few days and the planning assumption is that those numbers will increase further.”
As a result, Ms Hartnell said, the council and other authorities are working to increase access to vaccine and booster shots within the town.
However, she added that the council’s main challenge would be to protect its workforce, as public bodies elsewhere in the country (notably London where the wave hit earlier) had seen very high levels of staff absences.
This was a priority as council staff could be required to provide aid to partner organisations, Ms Hartnell said.
Ms Hartnell said: “While there is not an expectation that this wave will last as long as others, its impact is likely to be significant while we are in the middle of it. Rates are increasing in age groups 20 to 50, but the rise in infections in the 60 plus age group is the most worrying.
“The rate is now higher nationally than it was at this time last year and although our rate locally is currently below the national average, it is as well climbing steadily.”
The cabinet meeting had originally been slated to take place in person, but the town’s infection rates were considered high enough to move the meeting online as a precautionary measure.
While the Coronavirus Act 2020 allowed councils to hold meetings “remotely” during the first lockdown, the powers were time-limited and expired on May 7 2021. As no extension was agreed by government, councillors are required to be in the same room to be counted as ‘present’ and be able to vote.
As a result, cabinet could not formally take decisions, but instead gave indications on what decisions it would take. These could then be enacted by Ms Hartnell under emergency powers.
This approach was endorsed by council leader Kim Forward (Lab), who argued all Hastings residents should be looking to reduce in person contacts where possible.
Cllr Forward said: “The threat of the virus is really real still in our town. I know as we are coming out of the Christmas period and into a new year we are all hoping for a happier and healthier new year.
“But really it is still down to all of us to protect those essential services, all the essential workers and to really make some decisions around whether what we were thinking we want to go and do is something that we really need to do given the current climate.
“Let’s work really hard to try and keep everything going in Hastings together. To show kindness and consideration towards others again.”