Tina Henry, Devon’s Deputy Director of Public Health, talks about what the Prime Minister’s recent changes mean for Devon residents.
“The changes announced and that start to come into play this week are significant, but the pandemic is not over.
“The Office for National Statistics has said that around one in every 20 people have coronavirus, and in Devon, we know that our case rates are still high. They are falling, but for us to ensure that carries on, we must continue to do all we can to protect ourselves and those around us.
“There are real concerns, especially among people who are vulnerable and who may yet get seriously unwell if they catch coronavirus, about the removal of the legal requirement to self-isolate. For them, and for everyone, it’s really important that people with COVID-19 symptoms – the high temperature, cough or change to their usual sense of smell or taste – or who test positive for coronavirus, continue to self-isolate if they can, to prevent them from spreading it to others.
“It’s exactly the same as for many other infectious diseases.
“Just because it’s no longer legally required, the advice for now is still to isolate for five days followed by two negative tests, and this will be reviewed in the coming weeks.”
The Prime Minster also announced an end to free access to tests for the majority of people, from April.
“Testing, which is still available in March, is important for a number of reasons,” said Tina Henry. “It helps identify people who have the virus, so that they can choose to self-isolate rather than spread it to others. But it also allows authorities to track the virus’s movements in the community, and allows us to identify new strains as the virus evolves.
“There may also be a need to reintroduce some testing, after April, to prevent and support outbreaks in the future.
“The good news of course is that although case levels are still high, we’re not seeing that reflected in hospitalisations and deaths.
“The vaccines play a large part in that protection, and prevention from becoming seriously unwell.
“It’s really important that people keep up with their vaccinations when they’re invited to do so – the government has announced a fourth vaccination for all people aged 75 and over, and vulnerable people aged over 12, this spring. Teenagers are currently being invited to come forward for their second or booster doses, and vulnerable younger children are also invited to come forward.”
Asked what we should all try to do, now we’re not legally required to follow rules, Tina said:
“The simple message right now is that we must remain cautious, and although the legal requirements are no longer there, we need to exercise common sense and continue to do everything we can to prevent the spread of the virus.
“That means everyone eligible for the vaccine taking it up. It means self-isolating if you can when you’re ill. It means still wearing a face covering when indoors in crowded spaces with people you don’t normally mix with. And ventilation and washing our hands properly, are also still as important as ever.
“We need to remain conscious of risk, and we should choose to take steps ourselves to minimise that risk, to ourselves and others.”