Our Director of Public Health, Rachel Wigglesworth gives a Scilly-specific update following the publication of the government’s COVID-19 Response: Autumn and Winter plan 2021
The islands, along with Cornwall and Devon, were designated as an Enhanced Response Area on 27 August in recognition of the high rates of coronavirus at that time. This designation is in place for five weeks and will lapse on 1 October unless the government deems it necessary to extend the period. At the time of writing, and as predicted, the islands continue to experience cases of coronavirus. However, due to the cooperation from cases and the hard work of the Local Incident Response Team, all identified positive cases have been well understood and contained.
With the continuation of cases on the islands, it’s likely that you will already be aware of someone you know having tested positive for coronavirus. I realise that hearing about confirmed positive cases in your community can be unsettling and that many of you may feel uneasy about going about your business without self-isolating when not legally required to do so, so I would like to help clarify a few points on this issue. Please be assured that you are not expected to self-isolate unless one of the following applies to you:
- You experience symptoms. If you develop symptoms at any time, stay at home and self-isolate immediately.
- You have had a positive PCR but are not experiencing symptoms. You must stay at home and self-isolate as soon as you receive your positive test result
- You have had a positive lateral flow test result. Stay at home and self-isolate immediately, and get a PCR test as soon as possible and within 2 days of the positive test at the latest
- You live in the same household as someone who is experiencing symptoms, or has tested positive for COVID-19, and are not exempt from self-isolation. Stay at home and self-isolate immediately unless you are exempt under the latest self-isolation rules for household contacts
- You are asked to do so by NHS Test and Trace. If NHS Test and Trace ask you to self-isolate for any reason, you should do so and follow their instructions carefully. You may be entitled to support under the Test and Trace Support Payment scheme. Failure to comply with a request from NHS Test and Trace to self-isolate may result in a fine, starting from £1,000.
Along with double-vaccinated adults, everyone below the age of 18 years and 6 months is exempt from self-isolation in the event that someone in their household tests positive - although they will be advised to get a PCR test as soon as possible - up until the point they either develop symptoms or get a positive test result. This means that children from any household with one or more COVID-19 positive people should continue to attend school and work settings unless they develop COVID-19 symptoms, or test positive for coronavirus. This is because the risk of the spread of coronavirus among a heavily vaccinated population, at this specific time, has been weighed against wider educational, social and economic considerations by central government.
You should not feel guilty about acting in line with this guidance and should not make others feel like they are doing anything wrong for sticking to the latest advice. The only exemption to this is for people working in health and care settings, such as a hospital, care home or doctors surgery, where if you live with a positive case you need to stay away from work until you have a negative PCR test, at which point you can return and be exempt from self-isolation.
Government’s COVID-19 Response: Autumn and Winter Plan
The government has recognised that the autumn and winter seasons are likely to bring added pressure to health services due to increased rates of COVID-19 and flu. In answer to this potential increase in risk, government has published a COVID-19 Response: Autumn and Winter Plan which can be read in full on the gov.uk website. The plan is split into ‘Plan A,’ which focusses on further support for existing measures, such as pharmaceutical interventions and identifying and isolating positive cases within the population, and ‘Plan B,’ which considers the reintroduction of some of the practical measures which are known to reduce the spread of the virus, such as the mandatory wearing of face coverings in certain settings and working from home for a limited period, where possible.
A question I’ve been asked a lot lately is ‘will there be another lockdown this winter?’ Nothing as severe as a lockdown has been referenced in the plan, and we’re not anticipating one in the coming months. However, we can obviously never completely rule out the possibility that future changes in the virus could result in further changes to government strategy. As things stand, there is no reason to expect anything outside of the current government COVID-19 response plan.
There has been extremely welcome news this week as the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines to healthy 12-15 year olds has begun nationally. Those within this age bracket on the islands will be contacted as soon as a vaccine can be offered to them. Whilst parental consent will not be needed if a child is considered competent to make a decision by themselves, I urge families to make the decision together wherever possible, after reading the official NHS advice on the subject and consulting their GP if at all unsure. I can confirm that the vaccine is safe and effective and that it offers the best possible protection against further transmission. It won’t stop the virus from circulating - but it will prevent further cases of serious illness within the population and help to keep children well and in school this winter.
Booster shots are also being offered to over 50s, vulnerable people and health and social care workers and I urge everyone who is eligible to get one as soon as you can. Getting a booster shot is your best chance of avoiding serious illness and hospitalisation this winter, as it ensures you will have the most up-to-date protection available.
As we approach the October half term break, some of you will be planning to travel internationally. From 4 October, there will be further changes to the rules for international travel to England. Before you travel, please ensure you familiarise yourself with the latest government travel advice in relation to COVID-19.
Once again, I’m afraid I have to warn you all about attempts by fraudsters to exploit people by using COVID-19 as a means of getting the public to hand over money, financial details and personal information. This time around they are sending texts, emails and making calls, saying they are from the NHS and offering fake vaccination certificates (the COVID-19 pass). Please remember the following points:
- The NHS App is free
- The NHS COVID Pass is free
- The NHS will NEVER ask for payment or any financial details
Do not respond to requests for money or important personal information such as bank details. Do not open links and attachments in unexpected emails or text messages. If you suspect a message you have received is fraudulent, you can report it on the Action Fraud website or by calling 0300 123 2040. If you are concerned you may have accidentally engaged with a fraudster, please do not hesitate to contact 101 and speak to the police about your concerns. For information on how to get a genuine, free COVID NHS Pass to demonstrate your COVID-19 status, please visit the NHS website.
It’s can be easy to get bogged down in the do’s and don’ts of learning to live with coronavirus. However, it is worth remembering that it is a virus that affects individuals differently, and can lead to serious illness. Importantly we are learning that ‘living with COVID-19’ is not the same as pretending it doesn’t exist!
Once again, I’d like to thank everyone who continues to support the public health effort to prevent spread on the islands.
Director of Public Health for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly
Reducing risk with spread prevention measures
Please continue to follow these effective spread prevention measures:
- Get a PCR test when necessary. You should get a coronavirus PCR test if at least one of the following applies:
- you have a high temperature
- you have a new, continuous cough
- you’ve lost your sense of smell or taste or it’s changed
- you’ve been asked to by a local council
- you've been asked to by your doctor or a medical professional (e.g. in preparation for going into hospital for surgery or a procedure)
- you’re taking part in a government pilot project
- you've been identified as a contact by NHS Test and Trace. NHS Test and Trace will contact you to let you know that you have been identified as a contact and check whether you are legally required to self-isolate. If you are not legally required to self-isolate, you will be provided with advice on testing and given guidance on preventing the spread of COVID-19.
- 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. Remember: modelling safe behaviours is a good way of encouraging others to do the same.
- Consider group size and physical interaction. At times of high prevalence, you should limit the close contact you have with those you do not usually live with and minimise the number, proximity and duration of social contacts. Make space where you can and respect the wishes of others.
- Get a vaccine if you are eligible. We urge you to take up the offer of a COVID-19 vaccine (and booster shot) as soon as you are invited to do so. It is the best way of protecting yourself from the most serious effects of the virus.
- Update and check in using the NHS App. The NHS COVID-19 App is a useful source of data for tracking the virus so by checking in wherever possible, you can contribute to a better understanding of the spread of coronavirus. Please ensure you have downloaded the latest version.
- Meet outside wherever possible. Socialising outside remains the safer option, as the Delta variant is much easier to transmit in enclosed spaces. If you are meeting inside, be sure to let plenty of fresh air into indoor spaces.
- Consider the most vulnerable. Remember some individuals remain more vulnerable to the serious complications of coronavirus, even if fully vaccinated. Also, some people are unable to get vaccinated and you should be particularly careful when interacting with them.
- Remember basic hygiene. Keep washing your hands and cleaning your surroundings regularly. Cover your nose and mouth when you cough and sneeze and dispose of tissues safely.
- Take regular rapid (lateral flow) tests. If you are not symptomatic, you should take regular lateral flow tests (and report the results) to help us identify any potential for outbreaks. If you are experiencing symptoms, a lateral flow test is not sufficient, and you should get a PCR test immediately.
- Wear a face covering. The government still expects and recommends that people wear face coverings in crowded areas such as public transport. Our local public health team also strongly advises the wearing of face coverings in crowded and enclosed spaces. You should also respect the policies of individual business owners and the measures they have put in place to protect their staff and other customers.