Warrington South is a case study in how quickly the new strain of coronavirus can spread. At the end of November, we were one of a handful of local areas that came out of the national lockdown in a lower tier than the one in which we went in. The town delivered a massive effort to bring infections down during the second wave, emerging at about 150 cases per 100,000 of the population. The situation today looks very different.
At the beginning of October, I stood in the House and discussed the challenges that Warrington Hospital was facing. It looked as if a second wave was emerging. I talked about the tremendous efforts of doctors and nurses who were fighting to save lives in the ICU. Today, at the beginning of January, covid cases are at 780 per 100,000 of the population—up 50% on the figure a week ago. In some areas of the borough, levels exceed 1,450 cases per 100,000 of the population.
For Warrington, this is our third wave, and the most testing of times. Today, sadly, Warrington Hospital has exceeded the number of inpatients from the peaks in both April and October. Twenty-five people are in ICU, exceeding the surge capacity, and placing extreme strains on our local NHS. That snapshot shows how serious the new strain is and why we all need to play our part in defeating the virus and supporting our local hospital.
This week, Warrington launched its community testing hubs to identify asymptomatic cases, particularly for key workers and those who cannot work from home. I pay particular tribute to the team that pulled that together so quickly at Grappenhall cricket club and the Halliwell Jones stadium under the director of public health, Thara Raj. Yesterday, I saw for myself the efficient service, with people getting results in around 30 minutes.
Alongside that effort, work is being done by GPs, community carers and volunteers to establish a vaccination programme in rapid time. Figures that I have received today from the clinical commissioning group show that about 5,000 residents across Warrington have been vaccinated. Importantly, 80% of patient-facing NHS staff have received their first dose—that is just short of 4,000 people. In total, 9,000 people in Warrington have been vaccinated. My ask of the Minister is to ensure that vaccination supplies continue, because we would like a 24-hour drive-through, with queues, so that we can get life back to normal as soon as we can.
Finally, may I make one more request? The efforts of my colleagues over the past few months to encourage supermarkets to return business rates has begun to pay off. I urge Ministers to think carefully about how they use that funding, particularly to support small businesses that have not received anything so far, freelancers and directors of small limited companies. This is an incredibly challenging time. Now we must all play our part.