Coronavirus waves may continue for up to two years, says health boss

Louise Smith, director of public health in Norfolk. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

Louise Smith, director of public health in Norfolk. Picture: Ella Wilkinson - Credit: Archant

There could be further waves of coronavirus for up to two years, Norfolk’s director of public health has said, although future spikes are unlikely to be as severe as this one.

And Dr Louise Smith said the first cases of coronavirus in Norfolk could have been months ago.

Fifty-one people in Norfolk have died in hospital after testing positive for the virus - 23 at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, 15 at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn and 13 at the James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston.

The first deaths in Norfolk were confirmed on March 20, but Dr Smith, speaking on BBC Radio Norfolk, said it was likely the virus had been circulating earlier than originally thought.

She said: “This pandemic, here in Norfolk, probably started at least a month, two months ago, possibly even early February and we’ve been seeing the numbers come up steadily.

“We think now we’ve got something between 250 and 300 cases in Norfolk. That’s about what we were expecting and we do think the numbers are going to keep going up at least for another week.

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“We think what we are seeing is that the number of cases that we have doubles in about five days. So, we’re thinking that maybe by Easter Sunday, we will have double the number of cases that we have at the moment.”

She said it was not yet clear if the lockdown measures were having an impact. If they are, she said, the number of cases should level off in a week or so.

One radio listener said they thought they had the symptoms of coronavirus in November. Dr Smith said that may have been possible, if that person could trace it to contact with China, where the disease was first recorded.

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Dr Smith added: “We think that, with this virus, we are going to see waves of the epidemic, so we are coming up to a peak just now.

“We expect that will settle down, but that we will see future waves or peaks, either through the autumn or into winter and, quite possibly, continuing over the next 18 months or two years and hopefully at some point we will get a vaccine for it.

“While that sounds really alarming, that we’re going to have lots of waves or peaks, of the virus, we have every reason to expect that this first peak that we are in will be the highest and those subsequent waves will not be as severe as this one.”

On the issue of whether key workers have personal protective equipment, Dr Smith said there were reliable supplies of gloves, but it was getting difficult to obtain face masks in Norfolk, as it was in the rest of the country.

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