Rachel Wigglesworth, Director of Public Health for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, highlights some of the key messages from the current coronavirus guidance and advice.
The move to Step 3 of the government’s COVID-19 Roadmap represents another huge leap in terms of social and economic activity. Whilst we are all relieved to see some of our freedoms return (albeit still under particular conditions), you may begin to find that it is becoming more difficult to keep track of what you can and cannot do. With this in mind, I’ve tried to capture within this update some of the main points to remember at this time. Below is an infographic which depicts the key changes within Step 3.
Whilst these headline points may be familiar to you by now, please be aware that much of the government guidance has been updated since 17 May and is full of important messages about continuing safe behaviours in less restricted situations. Ultimately it is your responsibility to ensure you remain up to date and you can find all of the current coronavirus guidance on the government website. However, if you have any questions relating to the guidance, don’t hesitate to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Government has encouraged everyone to keep questioning whether their behaviours are keeping themselves and their loved ones safe. The Meeting friends and family (COVID-19) guidance states that ‘you can make a personal choice on whether to keep your distance from them, but you should still be cautious.’ This means you should assess whether increasing your physical contact with friends and family (and meeting indoors in a group of up to 6, or in a larger group from 2 households only) is actually the right thing to do in each individual case. By doing so, you can help protect those who may be more vulnerable, and ensure that those who may be finding this transition period more difficult than others are helped to move to the Step 3 restrictions at their own pace. Remember: just because you can do something, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should or have to, and nobody should be pressured into making changes they are not comfortable with.
Reopening and the NHS COVID-19 App
With the Step 3 changes comes the welcome news that restaurants, pubs, bars, cafes and takeaways are now permitted to serve customers in groups of 6 people or 2 households of any size indoors, or in groups of up to 30 people outdoors.
This is a significant change for both businesses and their customers, so please be aware that these restrictions do not allow for people from more than 2 separate households to meet in groups larger than 6 inside, and that businesses may have their own ways of ensuring that groups gathered outside on their premises do not go beyond the 30 person capacity.
If you want to be able to make the most of going to your favourite haunts for a drink or a meal this summer, please do your best to help business owners by sticking to the rules yourself and ensuring everyone in your party is well aware of the current rules before you head out. This is a difficult and important time for businesses, and nobody wants to see further outbreaks of the virus or avoidable business closures.
All businesses which have been allowed to reopen with the most recent set of changes will need to re-check the latest guidance and update their risk assessments if they haven’t done so already, as much has moved on since the last big reopening. Business owners and staff will have increased demands on their time as a result of taking measures to keep their customers safe, so please continue to be patient and respectful. You can help them by complying with the rules in place and proactively giving them your details for their records, as part of the vital NHS Test and Trace service. We are aware that when the NHS contact tracing app was first released there were some teething problems which put some people off using it. However, many improvements have been made since then, so it really is worth downloading and using it whenever you can. If you cannot access the app for any reason, businesses must take your details down in an alternate way, so please let them know if you need assistance to provide your contact information.
The official NHS COVID-19 app can be downloaded for free from:
- Apple App Store: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/id1520427663
- Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=uk.nhs.covid19
As the season gets busier and we start to see larger events taking place more frequently in the region, please be assured that your Public Health team is factoring these changes into their planning and remain confident that any additional challenges posed by an influx of people from other areas can be monitored and effectively responded to. Of course, this is not to say that we are ruling out an increase in case numbers as the impact of reopening generally becomes apparent over the next few weeks. We may see an uptick in the numbers as a result of the move to Step 3, but we are well prepared and remain hopeful that people will keep taking the government guidance and Public Health advice seriously, so that restrictions can continue to be eased when the time is right.
Variants of Concern
In addition to any decline in safe behaviours, something which could potentially delay the move to the next stage of the government’s Roadmap is the impact of ‘variants of concern.’ Variants of concern have been in the national news a lot lately. These variants of the virus are important because there is a possibility that they could be more transmissible, or that vaccinations might be less effective against them. That’s why it is very important that we respond quickly if a variant of concern is found. You can watch our recent video about variants of concern and why they are important at the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MVwKDOvs2h4
The Local Outbreak Response Team (LIRT) and Public Health England are well prepared to respond should Public Health be made aware that a variant of concern has been found locally. You will be notified if a response is needed due to a variant of concern and you will be given clear instructions in the event that any action (over and above that contained in the national coronavirus guidance and advice) is required of you.
To be clear, at the time of writing, there is no need for people on Scilly to do anything other than:
- continue to follow the guidance - this is as important as ever
- err on the side of caution in order to keep yourselves and others as safe as possible
- participate in regular rapid flow testing if you are asymptomatic
- self-isolate immediately and get a PCR test if you develop any of the symptoms of coronavirus.
The differences between Rapid Lateral Flow Testing and PCR Testing
We realise the different types of testing and ways to access them can be confusing, but you can read about the main differences and how best to access each kind of test on the Isles of Scilly on the ‘Coronavirus symptoms and testing’ page of the Council website. Whilst we really encourage everyone over 18, including visitors, to participate in regular rapid lateral flow testing (which does not require you to self-isolate unless you test positive), the main thing to remember is that rapid lateral flow testing is only for those without symptoms.
If you develop any coronavirus symptoms you MUST ALWAYS self-isolate straight away and:
- call 01626 204950
- or email email@example.com to request a PCR test.
The vaccinations rollout on the islands has been a great success so far and the local take up rates are among the best in the country. However, we are aware that some people have not yet taken up the opportunity to have their jabs. We would like to reassure anyone who has not yet done so that the offer of vaccination is always open. Vaccination is still by far the best way to protect yourself and others from coronavirus (particularly when combined with the risk mitigating behaviours previously mentioned).
Whilst some people who have had the vaccination may still contract COVID-19 (as the vaccine does not always prevent transmission) there is evidence that having the jab makes it far less likely that you will experience the more serious complications if you do contract the disease. It is important that people of all ages take up the offer of a vaccine when it’s your turn. The more people who have the vaccination, the fewer chances the virus will have to spread and cause variants of concern.
Also, the current evidence shows that the vaccinations still offer protection against the known coronavirus variants. Whilst this may vary and change over time, the vaccination programme remains our best chance of keeping the virus at bay enough to maintain the current level of social restrictions. Vaccinations, along with prevention behaviours, may yet even enable the Prime Minister to authorise further progression to Step 4 of the COVID-19 Roadmap, whenever it is considered safe to do so after 21 June.
The main points to remember
To summarise: as has been the case throughout the pandemic, we should all act as if the virus is among us at all times. As the recently updated ‘How to stop the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance’ reminds us, social distancing is still as important as ever:
“COVID-19 spreads mainly among people who are in close contact (within 2 metres). Longer periods of close contact increase the risk, but COVID-19 can spread even with brief contact. The further away you can keep from other people, and the less time you spend in close contact with them, the less likely you are to catch COVID-19 and pass it on to others.”
The other basics of good hygiene, such as regular hand washing, regular cleaning of your surroundings and covering your nose and mouth when you cough and sneeze, all remain crucial to stopping the spread of the virus and it is still a legal requirement to wear a face covering in most indoor public spaces. A full list of venues can be found in the Face coverings: when to wear one, exemptions, and how to make your own guidance.
Socialising outdoors is considered safer than socialising indoors, and if you do decide to meet indoors (as a group of 6, or from 2 households only), you should let fresh air in. These measures will help to control the virus no matter which variant becomes prevalent.
We are really grateful for your continued help in this nationwide effort and we still need you to keep yourself informed and stick to the safest possible interpretation of the guidance as we all adjust to the recent changes. Let’s ensure we can all enjoy this summer safely!