As you may have heard, rates of COVID-19 are currently high both nationally and in the South West. At present, rates are low on Scilly, however this summer proved how rapidly this can change. More people travel to and from the islands over half term, so this is an important time to do everything you can to stay safe. The infection prevention and control measures all remain the same, and I’ve included them at the end of this update as a reminder. Please do follow them as they have a real effect on the spread of the virus.
Please note the list of symptoms for which you can get a PCR test has been expanded on the islands. We are now advising everyone with COVID-19 symptoms OR any other wider cold symptoms to book a PCR test. Anyone with a positive Lateral Flow test should also get a follow up PCR test to confirm that they have COVID-19. Lateral Flow testing remains central to the Public Health effort - in fact a quarter of the positive cases now being identified have come from this kind of testing.
The good news is that we are currently in a better position to deal with higher rates now than we would have been previously. This is partly due to the fact that the majority of eligible people are now double-jabbed and vulnerable people are taking up the offer of a booster. Full vaccination dramatically reduces incidences of serious illness and death. To remain fully vaccinated, it is vital to get the booster jab when you are invited to do so, as levels of protection may begin to wane over time. This booster dose will help extend the protection you gained from your first 2 doses and give you longer term protection, ultimately reducing the risk of you needing admission to hospital due to COVID-19 infection this winter.
It is also really important to get a flu vaccine this year. This winter is expected to see a rise in rates of respiratory illness in general. There is a greater danger of serious illness if you contract COVID-19 and a respiratory illness simultaneously, so you really should take the opportunity to get protected against both this winter if you are eligible. Remember, getting vaccinated not only reduces the risk of serious illness for individuals, it is also one of the most important things we can do to help prevent our health services from being overwhelmed.
St Mary’s Health Centre has created a new Facebook page to provide information about health services for residents and visitors. It is a useful place to look for the most recent updates on vaccination this winter. Their most recent post confirms that they are planning to deliver the booster vaccine to eligible patients from 9 November and that they will be contacting patients directly to invite them for a booster.
It’s important to remember that COVID-19 is a disease that we need to continue to take seriously. Whilst it’s unlikely that most people will suffer the worst effects of the virus (especially if fully vaccinated), the risk of ‘long COVID,’ serious illness and death remains, and at this time of year there is the added complication of other respiratory illnesses such as flu. Coronavirus - like all viruses - constantly evolves, so higher rates of transmission make it more likely that new variants of concern will continue to emerge. Reducing the rate of spread is still vital to our ability to live with COVID-19.
We will obviously update you should there be any change to the restrictions, but at the moment we remain under Plan A of Government’s COVID-19 Response: Autumn and Winter Plan 2021. However, on 20 October, Health Secretary Sajid Javid pointed out the link between keeping up with basic infection prevention and control measures and the likelihood of being able to get through the winter and enjoy Christmas safely. This makes it clear that if we want to avoid further mandatory restrictions, we should not be taking unnecessary risks, particularly while the rates are high. We know many of you want to make the most of socialising during times when there are very few restrictions in place, but please bear in mind that this is an uncertain winter, and that COVID-19 remains a threat to our loved ones and to the progress we've made towards a return to normal life. You still need to weigh up the increased risk of going to busy venues, like pubs, restaurants and parties, as transmission is vastly more likely to occur in crowded indoor spaces.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank those businesses and travel operators serving the islands for continuing with the basic infection prevention and control measures as we head into winter. Wearing a face covering in enclosed or crowded spaces is still strongly advised and these localised policies are helping to keep the community safe. Thank you also to everyone who continues to respect them.
I hope everyone on Scilly is having a wonderful half term, whether you have chosen to stay on the islands or go further afield, and that you all stay healthy and well this winter.
Advanced Public Health Practitioner
Reducing risk with basic infection prevention and control 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 symptom of COVID-19 or any wider cold symptoms
- 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) 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 virus 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.