Q&A: Norfolk Covid expert's 'Freedom Day' verdict

Dr Louise Smith, Norfolk's director of public health. Picture: Norfolk County Council

Dr Louise Smith, Norfolk County Council's public health director. - Credit: Archant

With coronavirus restrictions due to be lifted on what has been dubbed 'Freedom Day' on Monday, July 19, Dr Louise Smith, Norfolk's director of public health answers these questions:

Do you think people will be confused?

The government has been very clear about its rationale and how mandatory rules have been replaced by guidelines. We are clear that people should continue to follow the guidelines.

What will you, the director of public health, choose to do?

I will choose to protect myself with hand washing, choosing less crowded and outdoor venues, wearing a face mask in public venues and continuing testing at home. I have had my two vaccine jabs.

What should all individuals do?

Get vaccinated.

Government advisers decided against prioritising school and college staff in "crowded" classrooms in

People are urged to get vaccinated. - Credit: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

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Continue twice weekly rapid tests and ask for a PCR test if you have symptoms

Participate in NHS Test & Trace

Wear a face mask in indoor public places such as public transport

Respect and comply with the rules business put in place when you are in their premises

If you test positive you must self-isolate and participate in NHS Test & Trace.

If you are informed that you are a contact of a case, you must self-isolate

Do you think people who stop wearing masks are being reckless?

It’s about personal choice and, of course, some people did not wear masks for health reasons.

Wearing masks have become part of everyday life. Pic: PA

People are encouraged to keep wearing masks. - Credit: PA

All I can advise is that masks do play a role in reducing the spread of Covid in crowded, indoor settings and so I would encourage people to keep wearing them as a courtesy to protect others.

What impact will the end of restrictions have on cases in Norfolk?

The chief medical officer has been clear that every step of unlocking involves a rise in cases -the key factor on this occasion is that the majority of adults have been at least partially vaccinated which may mean they have a milder illness

Are you predicting more hospitalisations and deaths?

Yes, the recent rise in cases is likely to lead to more people being admitted to hospital however this is unlikely to be the same levels as in previous waves of infection.

How many outbreaks are you dealing with at the moment and what are the main types of setting that are affected?

The number of outbreaks we are dealing with is rising and is now around 50.

We have seen increases associated with education settings, and with hospitality settings such as pubs.

We are seeing very few outbreaks in care homes, and smaller numbers of outbreaks in workplaces compared to previous periods.

How many people have long Covid in Norfolk and what are the implications of that?

It is very early days – about 1 to 1.5pc of Covid cases appear to lead to Long Covid.

To date about 42,000 people in Norfolk have had Covid.

That suggests over 400 people could be affected in the county.

Where do you expect to be in a year’s time? Will you still be dealing with Covid?

Yes. We do not expect that we can eliminate Covid.

Woolgrove School, Special Needs Academy remains open as usual today. Picture: Getty Images

Dr Louise Smith says Covid will not be eliminated. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

We hope that the waves of high numbers of Covid cases will have ended, but we do expect we will see continuing cases and occasional outbreaks that will require a public health response.

Care workers have until October to be vaccinated or they could lose their jobs. How many haven’t been vaccinated so far and what’s your message to them?

Around 10pc haven’t been vaccinated which is a small proportion and the vaccination programme is still ongoing.

I would encourage everyone to take the vaccine when it’s offered – there’s widespread experience now that the benefits outweigh any short-term side effects experienced by a minority of people, like feeling ill for a day.

What should care providers do?

For care settings all infection control measures, including the use of PPE for the delivery of care will need to continue.

It is strongly recommended that all care providers require the compulsory use of face coverings for anyone working or visiting within their setting.

What’s your message to clinically extremely vulnerable people, who may feel anxious about the end of restrictions? What support is in place for them?

It is important to respect and be considerate of those who may wish to take a more cautious approach

With government moving away from legal restrictions we still recommend that, if you are clinically extremely vulnerable, you take extra precautions to protect yourself, such as:

Wearing face coverings indoors and in crowded places
getting vaccinated
Washing your hands regularly & avoid touching your face
meeting outside if possible
Keeping rooms well ventilated if you meet inside
practicing social distancing
Asking friends and family to take a lateral flow test before visiting
Avoiding going to busy places
We understand that the ending of the restrictions may cause you concern and it may be difficult for you.

We want you to know that you are not alone and there is still help and support available, should you need it.

This includes help with accessing food and medicines as well as support for loneliness, by either contacting your district council or Norfolk County Council on 0344 8008020.

What is your message for specific groups?

Event organisers – encourage them to use the Covid Pass – evidence of vaccination or negative test results

Schools – bubbles end on July 19 but cases still need contact tracing. Children attending organised groups or summer schools are asked to continue regular testing,  and we would encourage parents staff and all other students to keep testing (as with everyone else)

Employers – the government is advising that staff currently working at home return to office working gradually. Health and safety regulations remain in place

Holiday-makers – you can now travel to amber list countries and do not need to self-isolate on return if you are symptom free and have not been in contact with a case and you are double vaccinated [or  under 18].  All other travel controls remain in place

What next?

We anticipate that there will be further changes to the rules in August to change the approach to contact tracing for adults that have been double jabbed and for children but these have not been confirmed at this stage.