The county council's director of public health says statistics which show Basingstoke has one of the highest coronavirus rates per person across the country "should be viewed with caution."

Last week the Gazette reported how as of the morning of May 13, the local authority has seen 640 confirmed cases of Covid-19 at a rate of 364 people per 100,000. In the six days since, this has grown to 662 cases at rate of 376 per 100,000.

At the time, this rate ranked second highest in Hampshire county behind only Rushmoor and 26th in the UK. As of May 19, the borough still ranks behind Rushmoor but has dropped to 28th in the UK. There are a little more than 300 of these areas in the UK.

Responding to those initial figures, a spokesman for Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: “It would be difficult to say for certain, but it is worth bearing in mind that we (Hampshire Hospitals) got our in-house testing for Covid-19 up and running much faster than most, which has meant we have had the ability to test more widely, and for longer.”

But now Simon Bryant, director of public health for Hampshire County Council and spokesperson for the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Local Resilience Forum has chimed in. The Local Resilience Forum is a partnership which works together to help people in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight stay safe.

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Mr Bryant said: “While the breakdown of Covid cases per district may, in some ways, be a helpful indicator of the prevalence of the virus, as with all statistics they must be viewed in conjunction with other factors.

"Not everyone with symptoms is being tested and in the case of Basingstoke, the local NHS began testing earlier than in many other parts of the county.

"This is likely to account for the high number of confirmed cases.

"However, this does not necessarily equate to the level of infection locally, and therefore any comparisons should be viewed with caution.”

Covid-19 cases are identified by taking specimens from people and sending these specimens to laboratories around the UK to be tested. If the test is positive, this is a referred to as a lab-confirmed case. These tests are used to calculate the above figures.

In England, laboratories submit test results to PHE through the Second Generation Surveillance System. Cases received from laboratories by 12:30am are included in the counts published that day.

Confirmed positive cases are matched to ONS geographical area codes using the home postcode of the person tested. Postcodes are supplied by the laboratory information systems.