The government has always said that lifting the COVID-19 restrictions in a phased way would be led by the data at each step, and that those target dates were ‘at the earliest’ rather than set in stone.
Having seen case rates falling earlier in the year, the UK is now seeing the number of positive cases rising again – steeply in some parts of the country.
Driving this is the latest ‘Delta’ strain, which is significantly better at spreading between people than previous variants.
The big difference this time is that the vaccination programme is so well advanced, and most of the adult population has now had at least one jab if not two. It means that plenty of the population have a high level of protection from becoming seriously ill if they catch coronavirus and it also reduces the risk of them spreading the virus to other people.
“Delaying this next lifting of restrictions, especially the guidance around social contact, is sensible because it means that more people will have been vaccinated by the time restrictions are lifted further,” says Steve Brown, Director of Public Health Devon.
The government has brought forward its target to offer all adults a first dose of a vaccine to Monday 19 July.
Younger age groups – where rates of infection are currently highest – will also be offered the vaccine, which will help protect them and help slow the spread of the virus.
In Devon, the number of positive cases of coronavirus is still below the national average, but we are seeing numbers increasing. The weekly case rate in Devon right now is 16 cases per 100,000. It was 7 per 100,000 just one week ago.
In other parts of the country, infection rates are doubling every 10 days or so.
So delaying the lifting of restrictions could reduce the number of those cases ending up in hospital, by between a third and a half by the summer, according to the government.
“The more transmissable Delta strain is not yet the dominant variant in Devon just yet. But it is very likely to become so, just as it is already in many parts of the country,” says Steve Brown.
“What can we do about it? The virus spreads through social contact. Keeping restrictions that limit social contact in place is the correct decision right now from the public health perspective. But we must all abide by it. We cannot rely on the vaccines alone to stop the spread of coronavirus. We all need to play our part in preventing the spread.”
• Keep your social distance from people who you do not live with or who are not in your bubble
• Wear face coverings when in public spaces indoors
• Wash your hands regularly and properly
• If you show any symptoms – the high temperature, new and continuous cough, or change to your usual sense of taste or spell – self isolate immediately and arrange a PCR test.
• If you do not show symptoms, please take up regular rapid, Lateral Flow Device testing, twice a week and when you are meeting socially with others. You will know your result within half an hour
• If you test positive, or develop symptoms, or you are advised to self-isolate, do so for the full self-isolation period of ten days.
• If you are travelling to other parts of the UK, know what the restrictions are in those areas, and be particularly cautious if visiting people in areas known to have the Delta variant
“We must take this opportunity to act, and to redouble our efforts to stop case numbers escalating.”