Swindon’s no longer on the government’s coronavirus watchlist – but what does that mean?

The town first featured on the list on August 7 as an area of concern, meaning that health officials in London were concerns about rising covid rates. It followed an outbreak of the virus at the Iceland distribution warehouse run by XPO Logistics.

Cases continued to rise, with the rate of new cases passing 50 per 100,000 people at points in August. Most of the new cases were in the SN1 and SN2 postcode areas. And around half of those to test positive were from black, Asian and ethnic minority communities.

The council ran a public information campaign and teamed up with Wiltshire Police, the fire service and others to get the message out. A new testing centre was installed at the County Ground, complementing the regional testing centre at the Wroughton Park and Ride.

Despite the efforts, Swindon was bumped up the watchlist from being an area of concern to an area of enhanced support.

But it meant extra access to covid testing facilities at a time when demand for tests became an ever hotter topic politically. And Swindon was not immune from difficulties, with those trying to book a test via the gov.uk website directed to a test centre near Newport.

However, case numbers fell – with the number of new cases in Swindon per 100,000 people now in the teens, well down from the 50 cases per 100,000 the town saw at the height of August.

Swindon case numbers since July SOURCE: GOV.UK

Now Swindon’s off the watchlist, what does it mean?

On a briefing call with reporters on Friday morning, Swindon Borough Council health chief Steve Maddern acknowledged concerns that Swindon could suffer as a result of no longer being a priority area for government support.

“It will have an impact because we then fall into the pool with everyone else,” he said of access to testing.

“We know the government has a limited amount of lab testing capacity at the moment and they are trying to prioritise those areas that need it most."

He said he had been given “no indication” the town would lose any of its test sites, for example the third, “pop-up” test centre in Broadgreen announced earlier this week.

Mr Maddern told reporters: “It wouldn’t seem very politically appropriate to give us a test site one week and take it away the next. What the third test site gives us is an extra element of capacity that we wouldn’t have had if we’d just stuck with the two that we had.”

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Steve Maddern of Swindon Borough Council

Why has Swindon done well when others haven’t?

Swindon’s case rate appears to be coming down when, across the country, rates of new cases have climbed. New lockdown measures have been imposed in parts of the north of England after rate rises.

Mr Maddern cited the council’s community engagement strategy, which has seen officials work with community leaders in more heavily-affected areas in the town centre. The council has also worked with businesses that have seen outbreaks. In particular, car sharing – a key source of infection among workers at firms like XPO Logistics – has been targeted.

The public health director said covid testing had been crucial to its strategy to reduce coronavirus rates.

Don’t be complacent, town urged

Mr Maddern warned people not to be complacent. They should still follow the guidelines.

“There are no shortcuts to protecting ourselves, our loved ones and our broader communities,” he said.


The next big challenge is likely to be winter; the flu season. Swindon council was said to be working with other NHS organisations to prepare for what is expected to be a busy season.

“A lot of this is business as usual. We just have to factor in covid as an element this year,” Mr Maddern told reporters.

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The old Covid-19 testing site at the County Ground Picture: DAVE COX

‘Circuit breaks’ and lockdowns

It has been reported today that the government is considering a short national "lockdown" – tighter restrictions likened to a circuit break – in order halt the spread of infection nationwide. Health secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC ministers were prepared to “do what it takes” to tackle rising covid rates.

The Swindon health chief’s view of that? Guarded.

“Although we’re Swindon is falling back in line with the south west we are still seeing numbers increase across the south west,” he said.

“If the government needs to do this circuit break, as they’re calling it, then they need to do it - don’t they.

“It’s a blanket approach to try and reduce those [cases] and some people as Swindon residents might feel that’s relatively unfair given our case rate is lower than the national average.

“But that’s what happened in lockdown as well. The case rates weren’t high everywhere but there was a need to reduce that physical mobilisation of individuals to reduce the overall challenge with shared infections.”