COMMUNITY engagement and cooperation between public bodies has played a key role in lowering Bolton’s Covid-19 infection rates, health chiefs have revealed.

In late May Bolton reported the highest infection rate in the UK following the first cases of the Delta variant being identified a month prior to this.

Having endured stricter measures than most areas of the country throughout the pandemic, the borough knew the consequences – both economically and emotionally – of rising cases and hospitalisations.

But a determined effort led by the CCG, the Council, the military, public health, volunteers and – importantly - the community saw the number of cases being kept under control and infection rates being brought down.

As many areas in the country see cases of the Delta variant rise, Bolton’s infection rates continue to fall.

So, how is Bolton fighting back?

During the spring, a ramped-up vaccine rollout worked hand in hand with mass testing to help protect as many people as possible and ensure new cases could be identified early on.

Health officials took on a targeted approach by identifying areas where there were a particularly high number of cases and worked closely with communities there.

Barriers to accessing the vaccine such as financial or transport issues were identified and overcome by the introduction of the Vaccine Bus, which brought the jab to the people.

Dr Helen Wall, clinical lead for Bolton’s vaccine rollout, said: “We’ve brought rates down through a combination of different things, a partnership working between the Council, public health and the CCG.

“We’ve worked together area by area and ensured people were on the ground.

“Even before the Delta variant became a concern, we realised the uptake in certain areas in Bolton was lower, particularly the BL3 postcode, despite the fact in many places it was high.

“So we started looking at community engagement in those locations, such as leafleting, door knocking, dropping off tests.

“We set up clinics up in those areas, when we got the Vaccine Bus in April we were able to bring the vaccine to the people.

“By doing those clinics we realised that actually vaccine hesitancy was a small reason that people were not getting the vaccine, it was mainly things such as not having enough credit on their phone or using public transport.

“We realised that there were other ways to make it work. We had a few who were still hesitant but the majority of them did want to get the vaccine, but there were barriers between them and the vaccine.

“We used modelling systems in order to target these areas bit by bit with the help of the bus in particular and with the teams. We were able to identify down to street level data where we needed to target.

“The bus also makes a statement and obviously advertises the vaccine and creates a bit of a hype. We can drop into an area and really target things at street level.

“The army were amazing at supporting us and getting the vaccines out there as well.”

As the health teams, the army and volunteers worked hard to bring vaccines and testing to the community, the community itself played a part in enabling the effort to succeed.

Dr Helen Lowey, director of Public Health in Bolton, said: “The response from everyone in Bolton has been truly inspiring. Not only the incredible volunteers but everyone who has come forward to get tested and vaccinated.

“Engagement and insight are absolutely fundamental to our approach, and we have worked directly with local communities to develop our response to the Delta variant.

“A key part of this has been working with trusted voices, through our Community Champions scheme, to share key messages on Covid safety, regular testing and the importance of vaccination.

“That has undoubtedly been crucial in making sure that our response was as effective as possible.”

On June 9 Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick, told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, that replicating Bolton’s targeted action was the “best way forward” in avoiding a return to the regional tiered system.

Dr Helen Wall added: “I don’t tend to give advice, but if I was going to share advice with anyone else in other areas I would say firstly look at community engagement.

“Speak with your local community and work with them. Make sure you listen to people.

“What I would also say is work closely with your public health team and the council.

“It would be really hard to have done what we’ve done if we didn’t have that relationship in Bolton between the public health team, the council and the CCG.”

The fight against the virus continues in Bolton, but it’s heading in the right direction thanks to health officials, volunteers and the community coming together.

Residents are urged to take regular Covid-19 tests, get both doses of the vaccine and stick to national guidelines.

Dr Helen Lowey added: “We are not out of the woods yet, our case rates are still high and it’s vital to keep up our efforts to bring these down.

“We have to keep our momentum going to get our rates as low as possible to protect our vulnerable residents and prevent the broader disruption that high rates could cause in the borough.

“Whatever the variant, there are things we all need to do to stop the spread and protect ourselves and others.”

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