‘COVID’s not over yet’ public health leader warns ahead of move to Plan B

Last week’s announcement from the Prime Minister that England will move to Plan B measures this week came against a backdrop of a sharp rise in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Portsmouth during the first week of December, leading to refreshed warnings from the city’s public health director.

Cases increased 44 per cent since last week, which brought the city’s infections per 100,000 head of population to 751 – the highest rate at any point during the pandemic.

With UKHSA having now confirmed the first Portsmouth cases of the coronavirus variant, Omicron, this is another stark reminder that this is a fast-developing situation and that the country is still in the grips of a pandemic.

Helen Atkinson, Portsmouth’s Director of Public Health, said: “We don’t want to cause alarm, but we are seeing a rise in cases. As there’s so much we still don’t know about the new variant – how poorly different groups of people might become or how well vaccines protect against it – this is a moment for us to remember that COVID’s not over yet.

“As we head into the festive period – spending more time with others, particularly those more vulnerable to the virus – we all need to keep playing our part to protect ourselves and one another. Get vaccinated, keep using at home rapid testing kits, self-isolate when you need to and if you need to meet indoors, open a window regularly to help keep fresh air circulating.”

With many individuals and public services already feeling the strain it’s also important that people look out for one another and seek support for their emotional wellbeing when they need it.

Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, the council’s Leader, said: “This can be a difficult time of year for many, and there are so many additional pressures this year on top of the usual festive activities. While there are additional rules in place, and you may have to access services in a different way, the council, the NHS and schools are still doing all they can to continue to be there for those who need them – and you can play your part by showing a bit of kindness and understanding to those around you.”

As the festive season approaches, there is guidance everyone can follow to protect themselves and others, including:

  • Get vaccinated – book a booster appointment if eligible but remember it’s never too late to get a first or second dose of COVID-19 vaccines or a flu jab.
  • Test regularly – use regular at-home rapid tests before a period of high risk, for example before meeting others indoors or visiting people who are at higher risk of severe illness if infected with COVID-19.
  • Spot the symptoms – ask for a PCR test when experiencing symptoms, no matter how mild. Self-isolate while waiting for a result and continue to self-isolate after receiving a positive test result.
  • Wear face coverings – it’s now a legal requirement to wear a face-covering in some settings such as on public transport and in shops. It’s also recommended to wear one when in crowded and enclosed spaces.
  • Wash hands – wash hands regularly and carry hand sanitiser when out and about.
  • Open windows – when meeting others indoors, open windows regularly to keep fresh air flowing as this lowers the risk of infection.
  • Shop safely – try to shop at quieter times, test at home before going out, wear a face-covering where required and leave space wherever possible.

The government has also confirmed the move to Plan B, with the legal requirement for face coverings being extended to most indoor public venues from Friday 10 December, people being encouraged to work from home wherever possible from Monday 13 December and certain venues and events will be required by law to check that all visitors aged 18 years or over are fully vaccinated, have proof of a negative test in the last 48 hours, from Wednesday 15 December.

The council has recently launched a new campaign reminding residents and businesses that COVID is not over yet – people can find guidance and advice at www.portsmouth.gov.uk/covidsnotover