Taking in coronavirus evacuees from Wuhan has helped Wirral to manage the pandemic according to a senior council officer.

On January 31, 83 Britons arrived at Arrowe Park Hospital after flying back home from Wuhan in China, where Covid-19 first emerged.

Many were worried that this would cause the virus to spread across Wirral and into the rest of the country.

But David Armstrong, Wirral Council’s assistant chief executive, said: “It didn’t feel like it at the time but taking the British citizens evacuated from Wuhan and then the cruise ship passengers who had been evacuated, actually served us a very helpful start because it means we’ve been involved in Covid ahead of all the other authorities starting in January.

“I think we’ve learned some very good lessons about working with the hospital and setting up dedicated teams within the council.”

Mr Armstrong’s remarks came during a meeting of Wirral Council’s audit and risk management committee last night, when the discussion turned to what Wirral can learn from Leicester’s management of its huge surge in virus cases.

Leicester was the first place in the UK to be placed under a local lockdown in June.

Elspeth Anwar, who advises the council on public health, said what Leicester showed was the importance of simple messages the public can understand.

Ms Anwar said there had been some mixed messaging during the pandemic and that public health teams in Wirral were trying to counter that by getting boots on the ground and helping businesses to adapt to new rules.

As well as businesses, Mark Camborne, the council’s assistant director for neighbourhood safety, said the authority’s ‘humanitarian cell’ group still meets twice a week and engages with over 50 faith and voluntary sector groups to get the message out and answer any questions they have about the pandemic.

Testing was also scrutinised at the meeting. The government has been heavily criticised for failing to process enough tests and doing so too slowly.

Ms Anwar said testing capacity was strong in Wirral, given the provision of testing sites in Liscard, Bebington, Birkenhead and Bidston.

This gave the borough the best testing capacity in Cheshire and Merseyside.

But Labour councillor Kate Cannon asked what local health teams were doing to address problems in the government’s contact tracing strategy.

Ms Anwar said there were shortcomings in the national track and trace system and that Wirral is currently working on its own contact tracing system to improve the situation locally.

Tory councillor Jeff Green said part of the problem with testing was that some people were asking for a test even if they did not have symptoms.

Cllr Green said some may be minded to get a test if they have heard that someone at the pub had tested positive, despite not having symptoms themselves. He said such people were “blocking up the system”.

Ms Anwar agreed, saying that symptomatic people need to be the priority for testing. She added that if you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus, you must self-isolate for 14 days.

This is the case even if you test negative for Covid-19, as you may be incubating it without showing symptoms.

Cllr Stuart Whittingham, the Labour member for Upton, said too many people booking tests was not the reason for the system becoming overstretched.

He criticised the government for not thinking ahead and predicting the spike in demand for tests as children went back to school.

Cllr Whittingham added that contact tracing should be done at a local level rather than a national one, as local councils have a better knowledge of things on the ground.

In a timely plea to the people of Wirral, David Armstrong said: “We have adopted a simple slogan which is Keep Wirral Well and we would just make a plea to people to keep socially distanced, keep wearing a face covering where you should and keep washing your hands.”

While Wirral had some advantages due to the way local government was organised, he added: “We do need to get [the rate] back down again, when you look at how quickly it rocketed last time we do need to get the rate down again.

“We have to do everything we can to get it down. It does need everybody to do that.”

Councillors also paid their respects to former Wirral councillor David Elderton, who has passed away.

Cllr Green said he was “an outstanding member of the council, a great member of this committee and on a personal level a tremendous ward colleague”.