Our Director of Public Health, Rachel Wigglesworth gives a Scilly-specific update following a sharp rise of cases of the Delta variant in Cornwall.
Roadmap delay and the Delta variant
The decision by government to delay moving to Step 4 of the roadmap out of lockdown comes at a time when COVID-19 cases are rising sharply (doubling every few days) across Cornwall. The rise in cases is due to a combination of the Delta variant being up to 60% more transmissible, along with increased socialising. Previous spikes in cases nationally are known to have taken some time to reach the South West, so we are likely to see a continued upward trend. There is more reason for caution now than ever.
Whilst it is often thought of as being a world apart, Scilly does not have any special protections against the spread of the virus, and everyone should remain prepared in case we begin to see cases rise on the islands. Just because we escaped lightly last year, does not mean we will enjoy the same luck this year. Please, therefore, remind yourself of the current restrictions and take up the offer of the vaccine as soon as you are invited to do so. Having both doses reduces the chance of symptomatic COVID-19 by 76-84%.
The Delta variant is known to have spread particularly quickly in certain workplaces, such as those within the hospitality sector, due to the (often unavoidable) close contact between staff members in the course of their work. Young people (aged 16-29) are contracting the virus in particularly high numbers this time, as they are more likely to work in this sector and are less likely to have received either round of the vaccine (due to not being eligible previously rather than any fault of their own).
Whilst I encourage everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated as soon as they are able to, preventing the spread of the Delta variant will be impossible if we don’t also continue to do the following:
- Stick to the safest interpretation of the guidance. Don’t seek to flex the rules. Don’t put pressure on others to flex the rules. Modelling safe behaviours is a good way of encouraging others to do the same.
- Keep group numbers low. Remember it’s a maximum of 30 people outdoors, or 6 indoors if from more than 2 different households.
- Meet outside wherever possible. Socialising outside is generally safer. If meeting indoors, let plenty of fresh air into indoor spaces.
- Make space. Being close to people increases transmission considerably. Keep your distance from anyone you do not live with (2 meters apart at all times). This applies whether you are indoors or outdoors - in the street, or on the beach.
- Keep physical interaction to a minimum. This helps reduce the risk of spread and should be a consideration even with your closest friends and family. Physical interaction applies to everything from hugging someone to sharing cutlery at a picnic.
- Consider the most vulnerable. Remember some individuals remain more vulnerable to the serious complications of coronavirus, even if fully vaccinated.
- Remember basic hygiene. Wash your hands and clean your surroundings regularly, cover your nose and mouth when you cough and sneeze, and dispose of tissues safely.
- Wear a face covering. You should wear a face covering in the following circumstances:
- wherever wearing a face covering is legally required
- in any indoor space where social distancing may be difficult and where you come into contact with people you do not live with
- in any outside space where you cannot maintain a 2-meter (about 3 steps) social distance from those around you.
Commit to twice-weekly testing
In addition to all of the basics mentioned above, it is also a really important time to undertake twice-weekly rapid Lateral Flow Testing. This kind of rapid testing is really helpful for our teams to identify where outbreaks are likely to occur and it’s also important for us to get data on where the virus isn’t being transmitted.
I would like to call upon the community to get into the habit of taking regular rapid lateral flow tests now if you haven’t already done so. You can find out more about rapid testing and how to access tests on the Isles of Scilly at the following link: https://scilly.gov.uk/community-safety/coronavirus-covid-19-information-and-advice/coronavirus-symptoms-and-testing.
Please remember that you should only take a rapid lateral flow test if you DO NOT have symptoms.
If you develop any coronavirus symptoms you MUST ALWAYS self-isolate straight away and:
- call 01626 204950
- or email firstname.lastname@example.org to request a PCR test.
Also, if you suddenly feel unwell and are unsure why, you should seek advice from your GP as normal and ask them whether you should also get a PCR test. As always, if you need emergency medical treatment, you must dial 999.
Why this summer is different from last summer
This summer is not like last summer and I want to make it clear to everyone on Scilly (both residents and visitors) that whilst we have been fortunate enough to have only experienced very low case numbers until now, this is far from guaranteed for the current season. The main ways in which this summer differs are as follows:
- There are far more people on the islands this year. This increases the risk of transmission from larger gatherings (for instance, at transport hubs and in the centre of town) and means there is greater pressure on local services and infrastructure, as well as less spare capacity in terms of workforce and accommodation.
- The Delta variant is much more transmissible. Transmission rates are up to 60% higher with this new variant.
- Government is committed to moving out of lockdown. Despite having delayed the move to Step 4, the government’s roadmap strategy is that restrictions will not be increased, so we will have to adjust to living with the virus as safely as possible.
- People may be dropping their guard. The restrictions have been in place for a very long time and people may be finding it difficult to adjust to what they should and should not do now that the rules are not so black and white. I urge everyone to continue paying attention to official public health messaging at this extremely sensitive time.
Lessons for businesses based on experience in Cornwall
The hospitality sector in Cornwall has been particularly badly affected by outbreaks recently and I would like to remind island employers that it really is vital to have risk assessments and mitigations in place to prevent spread.
These outbreaks have really driven home how quickly businesses face having to close if their staff either contract the virus themselves or are identified as close contacts. On Scilly, where there are so few options for staff cover, this is likely to be a particular issue, so I urge businesses to take their responsibilities to their staff (and customers) seriously so they can retain sufficient staff to remain open throughout the peak season. It is, however, vital that employers encourage their staff to report symptoms and are understanding of any requirement to self-isolate. Employees can do their part by ensuring that they follow all of the guidance above, both at work and when socialising.
I appreciate that many seasonal workers may not have been fortunate enough to have been offered the vaccine before arriving on the islands, particularly if they are under 30. I have been assured by the local GP practice that anybody working on the islands is welcome to register with the local GP, regardless of how long they intend to stay. This will help us to ensure that vaccines are offered to everyone who needs one. I ask that employers make their staff aware of this route for accessing the vaccine.
Please remember that advice and support for businesses is available from the Council’s environmental health team who are on standby to answer any queries or address any concerns relating to the restrictions placed on businesses due to coronavirus. Contact the team on 07780 585 139 or at email@example.com.
Checking in with the NHS COVID-19 app
Participation from customers using the NHS app to scan QR codes at public venues, including pubs, restaurants, etc has proved invaluable to my team and the wider public health effort. I can’t emphasise enough how much we need everybody who is able to download the NHS COVID-19 app to do so, and to check in each time they enter a business. Those who cannot access the app must still ensure they provide their contact details to help facilitate NHS Test and Trace. In Cornwall, we have had reports of broken QR code links, so I encourage any customer who discovers a broken code to report it to the business immediately.
The official NHS COVID-19 app can be downloaded for free from:
Apple App Store: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/id1520427663
The threat posed by COVID-19 will be with us for some time to come and we are not yet in a position where we can treat coronavirus like the flu. The virus is still prevalent nationally and cannot be treated as if it is just occurring in isolated outbreaks. Until it can be brought under control, it will continue to require a nationwide Public Health response and we will continue to need all the help we can get from, both the local community and visitors to the islands, if Scilly is to remain relatively unscathed by the pandemic. Please don’t let all of your previous efforts to Keep Scilly Safe be in vain.