Directors of Public Health across Merseyside and Cheshire have issued a joint message to residents and businesses in their areas to continue to take COVID-19 safety precautions even after the legal restrictions are lifted from Monday 19 July.
They cite high and increasing case numbers in the region, the risk to those who have yet to be vaccinated and the potential disruption to services and businesses due to high numbers of people having to self-isolate as reasons for a careful approach to living with COVID-19 from next week.
Continuing to adhere to the core infection control measures that have been in place through the last 18 months – plus getting regularly tested and receiving vaccinations when they are offered – is considered the best way forward for Wirral and neighbouring authorities.
The current level of infection in Wirral places the borough within the highest in the Liverpool City Region. The rate of 515 per 100,000 people means on average 235 people in Wirral are testing positive for COVID-19 every day. Hospital admissions are also rising.
Getting as many of the adult population vaccinated against COVID-19 remains the best route out of these restrictions and while the figures for Wirral are good, there are worrying gaps within the community which need to be addressed.
82% of adults in Wirral have now had their first dose, but this is not balanced across the whole of the borough; in areas such as Birkenhead, around a third of all adults do not yet have the protection of even one jab. 68% of Wirral adults have two doses, which is encouraging. However, it still means the borough is some way off ensuring all of residents have maximum protection from serious illness and hospitalisation.
Wirral’s Director of Public Health, Julie Webster, says: “We absolutely understand the feeling of our residents who want nothing more than to get back to normal, but it is our role as Directors of Public Health to be realistic about the future of this pandemic and do everything we can to protect the health of our population.
“The early evidence suggests that the hugely successful mass vaccination programme has weakened the link between infection of risk of hospitalisation and loss of life, which is incredibly encouraging, but that unfortunately is not the end of this story.
“It is clear that a massive rise in infections will impact our unvaccinated children and teenagers, those who have not been vaccinated, either due to personal choice or another medical reason, or those who have been vaccinated but fall within the lower percentage of people who are not protected.
“Another very real danger is the risk of yet another mutation of the virus that is both easier to catch and could render our current vaccines powerless, essentially taking us back to square one.”
People living and working in Cheshire and Merseyside are advised to:
- Get fully vaccinated – it’s shown to be safe and effective against the virus, including new variants and is the best way to keep yourself from getting seriously ill. It also reduces the risk of passing the virus on to someone else
- Be kind and considerate of others who may be feeling extremely nervous about the further lifting of restrictions
- Continue wearing face coverings in crowded indoor areas where social distancing cannot be followed, such as supermarkets and on public transport, in health and social care settings, such as hospitals, care homes and GP surgeries, and where it would make others feel more comfortable
- Continue social distancing by not unnecessarily being in crowded areas and continuing to work from home if possible
- Continue to practice good hand hygiene, in particular hand washing
- Keep getting tested – everyone should undertake twice weekly rapid symptom free testing using Lateral Flow Tests (LFT). If people experience generally associated symptoms such as a headache, a stuffed or runny nose, tiredness or weakness, aches and pains, sore throat or diarrhoea, they should take an LFT and follow up with a PCR test if the LFT test is positive. If people have any of the main symptoms of COVID-19 such as a high temperature, a new continuous cough or loss or change to their sense of smell or taste they must stay at home and book a PCR test. Around one in three people with COVID-19 don’t have symptoms, but can still infect others - so getting tested regularly will help slow the spread.
- Self-isolate if you have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19, especially if you work in a high-risk setting
Businesses and other workplaces are being asked to:-
- Continue to adhere to COVID-19 working safely guidance, including provision of washing facilities and proper ventilation with external fresh air
- Continue to engage with the Test, Trace and Isolate process, and increase testing if your workplace has had an outbreak
- Encourage your employees to get tested if they suspect they have COVID-19 symptoms and self-isolate if positive
- Encourage your employees to have both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine when it is offered
For the time being, COVID-19 infection prevention and control measures in public buildings, such as hospitals, leisure centres, libraries etc will be maintained meaning that the current guidance on the use of face coverings, social distancing and limits on numbers will continue.
While the government is no longer instructing people to work from home after July 19th, the recommendation is that any return to the workplace should be gradual and businesses should follow the published guidance.
Hospitality businesses and organisers of large events will be supported and encouraged to use the NHS COVID Pass in high-risk settings to help limit the risk of infection in their venues when they are open.
Schools will be advised to continue with current arrangements (including class bubbles and face coverings) until the end of the summer term.
Julie added: “It is difficult to say when this way of living will end, but we do know that we are likely to have a difficult winter ahead of us, which means it is likely we will need to follow this advice until spring next year.
“For many this will be unwelcome, but ultimately, it is necessary. Throughout this pandemic, we have witnessed from our population extraordinary levels of personal resilience, as well as kindness and thoughtful consideration towards others, and it is with this in mind that we ask you to continue your efforts in being strong, being kind and being safe.”