Our Director of Public Health, Rachel Wigglesworth gives a Scilly-specific update ahead of the move to Step 4 of the government's roadmap.
Recent government announcement
Most of you will be aware by now that, subject to a final review of the data next week, the government is planning to end legal COVID-19 restrictions on Monday 19 July. This means that 19 July is the earliest possible date for the restrictions to be lifted in accordance with Step 4 of the government’s roadmap. It also means that we will be more reliant on individual and community responsibility to keep each other safe after this date, and we appreciate your ongoing support.
Continue to follow the current guidance
I want to be extremely clear that we should all be following the existing rules. We are still at Step 3 of the roadmap and these rules remain in place until at least 19 July. Please take the opportunity to re-read the guidance in full if you are at all unsure of what you can and cannot do at this time. I have summarised the key points below:
- Stick to the safest interpretation of the guidance. Please don’t pre-empt the official date for the changes in 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.
- Keep group numbers low. Remember it’s still a maximum of 30 people outdoors, or 6 indoors if from more than 2 different households. This applies in your own home, as well as in pubs and restaurants. Table service is still required until at least 19 July.
- 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.
- Make space. Being close to people increases transmission considerably. You must still keep your distance from anyone you do not live with (2 metres 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. Keep washing your hands and cleaning your surroundings regularly. Cover your nose and mouth when you cough and sneeze and dispose of tissues safely.
- Wear a face covering. You should still wear a face covering in the following circumstances:
- wherever wearing a face covering is legally required (the law is in place until at least 19 July)
- 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-metre (about 3 steps) social distance from those around you.
It is still a legal requirement to wear a face covering when using public transport. Local transport operators are considering how they can safely proceed after 19 July and you can help by following their advice and rules at all times to keep everyone safe.
After 19 July
I’m currently working with my colleagues in Public Health and stakeholders across the region to determine how we can safely navigate the transition to further relaxation of the rules. However, what everyone should bear in mind is that even if the move to Step 4 is confirmed by government, people’s personal judgement will now be key in learning to live with the virus. The Prime Minister emphasised this in his recent announcements and I echo it in my capacity as Director of Public Health. This means you should take account of the following things when making decisions after the change to Step 4:
- Vaccinations are vital. We urge you to take up the offer of a COVID-19 vaccine 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.
- Long COVID. As Chris Whitty has recently warned, rates of long COVID are likely to increase significantly and could affect younger groups in particular due to the lower vaccination rates for ages only recently eligible. Long COVID can have a serious effect on daily life, so avoiding contracting the virus where possible is also important for this reason, regardless of how high the risk of getting acute symptoms is.
- We still want you to take tests. If you are symptomatic, you should still get a PCR test. If you are not symptomatic, we would still like you to take regular lateral flow tests. You can find out how to access testing on Scilly on the Council website. This advice applies to both residents and visitors.
- We still want you to check in using the NHS App. Public Health is still finding the information obtained from the NHS COVID-19 App useful and we urge you to continue to check in wherever possible.
- Coronavirus will continue to spread and mutate if safe behaviours aren’t continued. Every opportunity the virus has to mutate presents the potential for a reduction in the effectiveness of the vaccines. Whilst the vaccines are currently highly effective against serious illness and hospitalisation, this may not always be the case - so the safe behaviours mentioned previously will remain our best chance of keeping ourselves and others safe, even after the legal restrictions have been lifted.
- Cases are still rising nationally. The previous round of restrictions easing is still having an impact on the number of people catching and passing on coronavirus, and this is unlikely to change anytime soon. Living with the virus means people will still contract the virus and pass it on. Vaccinated people (whilst more likely to have a good level of protection against serious illness) can still contract and pass on the virus. Government has been clear that they fully expect cases to rise, and for more people to suffer symptoms and further deaths to occur.
- Hospitals and ambulance services are at full capacity. Whilst coronavirus hospitalisations are currently not as high as before the vaccination roll out, we know that hospitals and ambulance services in our region are experiencing exceptional levels of demand for related or other reasons. For example, the impact of people having to wait for medical care during the pandemic is taking its toll on services (and on medical staff who are already exhausted from working under such extreme circumstances for so long). The government has indicated that one of the reasons for moving to Step 4 during the summer may be to avoid increasing coronavirus hospitalisations during the winter flu season, but we should be doing everything we can to prevent adding pressure to medical services and staff at all times so as not to make this extremely worrying situation worse. Remember, Scilly also relies on health services in Cornwall, so everything we can do to reduce the spread of coronavirus will reduce pressure on these vital services.
- Scilly has had low case numbers so far but there is no guarantee this will continue and the islands are particularly susceptible to shocks. Consider how easily the local services on Scilly could be overwhelmed - consider particularly how few coronavirus hospitalisations, or people unable to go to work, would result in a major problem for the islands. This applies to all industry sectors because workforces are so small (in some cases relying entirely upon individuals), and also because there is such widespread interaction between staff from different workplaces, with many residents doing more than one job. Wearing a mask, keeping your distance and continuing to err on the side of caution could make all the difference for the islands.
- We still need the help of our visitors. The increase in visitor numbers over the summer season presents a considerable challenge for such a small community. We need the help of visitors to keep our islands safe as much as ever, so please direct them to the Council’s Visitor Information page, which will be updated following each government announcement relating to the roadmap. Please note that there is no guarantee of evacuation from the islands if you contract coronavirus during your stay and visitors should consider this before travel.
I hope this information gives you an idea of how best to keep you and your community safe during the interim period between now and the move to Step 4. You can expect to hear from me again following government’s confirmation of the date for the move, but please remember that you must continue with the current restrictions until at least 19 July.
Thank you to everyone who continues to make sacrifices on the behalf of their loved ones and the islands at large.