AN ANTICIPATED report into Barrow's springtime Coronavirus case spike has found that Morecambe Bay NHS Trust's testing regime was largely behind the figures.

The high Covid-19 incidence rates recorded towards the end of March and early April led to reports that the town had the highest number of cases nationally and speculation it could be the first part of the UK to be made subject to a local lockdown.

Consequently, Public Health England (PHE) was commissioned to carry out a report into the demographic factors behind the headline-grabbing numbers.

Cllr Ann Thomson, leader of the borough council, along with deputy leader, Cllr Lee Roberts, and chief executive Sam Plum, wrote an open letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock and PHE head, Duncan Selbie, to call for an investigation following the figures' publication in May.

The subsequent report, conducted by PHE’s North West Field Service, covered the period March 1 to May 31.

It found diagnosis rates of Covid-19 in working age people in Barrow were more than double that among the same age group across the North West.

The report did not look at the death rates from Coronvirus at the time.

Cllr Thomson welcomed the report's findings, saying: "The nationwide data released initially showed a far greater number of Covid-19 cases in Barrow than other parts of the country.

“Unfortunately, this data provided no additional information or context which was a huge concern to us all.

“This investigation has now been completed and shows Barrow’s higher incidence of coronavirus was actually down to the rigorous testing regime implemented early on by our hospital trust.

"The trust led the way nationally in terms of testing and we thank them absolutely for their proactive approach to controlling the spread of the pandemic in our area.”

The PHE report into Barrow also found that Covid-19 incidence rates were 3.4 times higher in working-age females than it was in their male counterparts across the borough.

However, the rates of infection among children and young adults were in line with the North West average. In older people, they was significantly lower.

The findings confirm the difference in testing processes launched by the hospital trust, University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay (UHMBT) - where 81 per cent of employees are female - accounts to a considerable degree for the higher rate of infection found.

However, former deputy leader of the borough council, Brendan Sweeney, argues the report does not explain the disparity between incidence rates in Barrow and other Bay areas where the UHMBT testing regime was in place.

He said: "Much of the disparity between the numbers in Barrow at the time as opposed to the rest of England is accounted for by the UHMBT testing regime.

"But certainly not all of it. And there still remains a big difference between Barrow and other areas covered by the hospital trust - like Lancaster and the South Lakes - which isn't explained by this report.

"In Barrow, it's very noticeable that the people affected were of working age - the median age of people testing positive was 13 years younger than the average age for both the North West and England as a whole.

"The question still remains: why did Barrow have such a high number of positive cases so early on. The data seems to suggest it wasn't down to the behaviour of local people - because rates since May 1 have been very low. So what was going on in late March and early April?"

Commenting on the PHE report's findings yesterday, Cumbria's director of public health, Colin Cox, said: "The hospital trust has to be commended for being so proactive in testing hospital staff and families of staff.

"I think the key thing that people can take from this is a sense of reassurance.

"It's not that there's something 'funny' in Barrow - the numbers are largely explained by the testing regime in place at the time.

"I remain to be convinced that there was something unusual going on in Barrow."