As the COVID-19 pandemic enters a new phase, Dr Andrew Furber, Regional Director of Public Health (North West), Public Health England, warns against complacency and directly appeals to everyone to follow the rules and stay home as much as possible to help save lives.
Whilst it is encouraging that vaccines are now being rolled out, people must not become complacent by thinking this pandemic is nearing the end. We have a long way to go.
No vaccines are 100% effective but people who have received them are at a greatly reduced risk. So even for those who have been immunised there’s still a small risk of infection.
Most people haven’t yet been vaccinated and will still be at risk of contracting COVID-19 for some time. The Office for National Statistics estimates that 1 in 50 of us have COVID-19 infection. Case rates in the North West are rapidly increasing.
There was a marked jump in COVID-19 cases after Christmas and this is showing no signs of slowing. It will take another week or two before infections caught during the festive period translate into people getting ill and being hospitalised.
We are increasingly concerned about the 17-21 age group which saw a 150 per cent increase in cases in the North West in the past week. This is likely to be due to various factors including that they are more likely to be working in jobs such as retail where they come into contacts with lots of people, or socialising together, particularly during the festive period. Whilst they are less likely to experience severe symptoms, they can transmit the virus to other more vulnerable members of the population.
And there is growing evidence of the seriousness of long-term COVID-19 – the effects of the disease that continue for weeks and months and possibly permanently, including damage to multiple organs.
Thrown into the mix is a new variant of COVID-19, which is proved to be highly transmissible and is now prevalent in many areas.
This, while our hospitals are under pressure like never before. Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty this week said that the NHS is in the most dangerous situation in living history, warning that the next few weeks will be the worst.
We need to be realistic - there is only so much the NHS can do. We all must help our hard- working NHS staff continue to care for everyone who needs it urgently to stem the rising tide of infections.
However, we must not lose sight of the indirect harms of COVID-19. We need people to continue seeking help for the non-COVID-19 care they need – and we know that previously, fear of the virus put many people off from doing so.
By keeping our contacts low, we reduce the number of opportunities for the virus to spread. I know this can be very hard, but it is an unfortunate scientific fact that this virus thrives on humans making social contact with one another.
Once again, in our fight against Covid-19, we have reached a crucial point and it has never been more important to observe the rules. Stay at home as much as possible. If you have to go out for essential purposes, then behave like you and everyone you meet has the virus. Protect yourself and others by following good hand hygiene, keeping at least two metres apart and wear a face mask in enclosed spaces. These are all essential habits to adopt for the foreseeable future and we owe it to each other.
Pictured - Dr Andrew Furber, Regional Director of Public Health (North West), Public Health England.