Health director 'cautiously optimistic' region can enjoy normal Christmas

Norwich Christmas lights switch on. Tanya Burr and husband Jim Chapman take a selfie with Santa.Pict

Norwich lights switch-on in 2015. Some large events have been called off again this year but in other respects a 'normal' Christmas can be expected - Credit: Archant

Families can start preparing for a 'normal' Christmas this year despite the ongoing pandemic, Norfolk's director of public health has said.

Last year, spiralling Covid cases saw the festive period marred by restrictions, with lockdowns and social distancing measures preventing parties, celebrations and family gatherings.

There have been some concerns about new restrictions in the UK this winter amid strong surges in case numbers on the continent, where some countries have returned to lockdown.

But in an interview, Louise Smith, Norfolk's director of public health, said she was "cautiously optimistic" that, locally speaking, Christmas this year will be much closer to the type people will remember from before the pandemic hit.

She said that office parties and family get-togethers should be able to go ahead - although she urged people to take tests beforehand and consider limiting the size of events.

The county's current infection rate currently stands at around 330 cases per 100,000 people - considerably below the national average, and far below that found in parts of Europe.

The Mental Health Social Care Service conference at the Holiday Inn Norwich North. Dr Louise Smith,

Dr Louise Smith, Norfolk County Council's director of public health Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016

On the winter period

Most Read

Dr Smith said that while it is difficult to predict exactly how the winter period will pan out, she expects Covid case numbers to gradually decline.

She said: "We are not expecting numbers to drop rapidly but I think we will see them drift, although there will be lots of ups and downs.

"I think what we will see is cases going up and down a bit, but overall drifting down heading into spring."

On Christmas celebrations

Dr Smith said she did not expect there to be the same need for restrictions this Christmas as last, but still recommended people err on the side of caution with their celebrations.

"I would definitely recommend smaller groups rather than large gatherings. With office parties, I think workplaces need to think about what the impact would be if large groups were affected," she said.

"I would also urge people to think about testing ahead of celebrations, particularly if you know you are coming into contact with somebody who is particularly vulnerable.

"If you are going to a family gathering and know there will be some more vulnerable people there, doing a test before you go is a great idea."

On cases in children

Dr Smith said that of the cases currently being experienced, the age group worst affected is schoolchildren - particularly those aged under 10.

She said: "It [the increase in cases] is reflective of how many we have had in that age group previously, as they will not have developed as much immunity, which is definitely part of it.

"It does seem to affect this group less."

On vaccinating the under-12s

School vaccination

Dr Smith does not expect a decision to be made on vaccinating primary school children soon - Credit: PA

Although Dr Smith acknowledged that case numbers are growing in younger children, she stopped short of calling for the vaccine programme to be rolled out to the under-12s just yet.

She said: "We know the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation is considering it, but any decision has to be based on more evidence being made available. I think we are still a little way off that decision being made. I am not anticipating that happening soon."

On Europe

With many places in mainland Europe currently experiencing large surges in cases, it has led to fears that this could be reflected later in Britain. 

But Dr Smith said: "We are not expecting there to be a big surge here like there has been in some parts of Europe.

"It is not fully clear why Europe is surging, but there are a few things that suggest they are behind us. Firstly, the Delta variant arrived in England earlier so we have had longer to adjust to that and our vaccine programme has progressed further."

On working from home

With Christmas looming, some may be considering avoiding office environments in a bid to also avoid having to isolate and miss the festive period.

Dr Smith said: "It does depend on workplaces and the type of work, but I would suggest with case levels where they are the risks at the minute are moderate.

"I think when the risk level is moderate, it is still sensible to keep to one-metre distance in the workplace and keeping in smaller groups.

"I think working from home is sensible where people can do so and where you know you will be in contact with people that are at risk."

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter