Wearing masks crucial to keep Norfolk coronavirus cases down, says public health director

A customer wearing a face mask at Thetford Garden Centre. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

A customer wearing a face mask at Thetford Garden Centre. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020

Wearing masks will play a crucial role in helping keep coronavirus cases in Norfolk low, the county’s director of public health has said, as face coverings become mandatory in shops and supermarkets.

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

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

Dr Louise Smith, Norfolk’s director of public health, said, with new cases of COVID-19 in Norfolk down to only a few each day, wearing masks would help keep those figures low.

It is already mandatory to wear face coverings on public transport, but that will be extended to shops and supermarkets in England from Friday, July 24.

Police will be able to impose fines of up to £100 for those who refuse to do so.

Dr Smith said: “It’s really important that we do everything we can to protect ourselves and each other.

“Masks and face coverings do slow down the spread of the virus - both the risk of you, as the wearer, being infected and the risk to others if you are unlucky enough to be infected.

“It’s not the whole answer, but it is a very valuable one.

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“But people need to continue with other measures, such as socially distancing, washing hands and using alcohol gel.”

She said it was important that people accepted the need to wear coverings and that the discomfort of wearing one was preferable to having the disease.

MORE: Where can you buy Norfolk-made masks and coverings?

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The government recently announced local councils would get extra powers to impose lockdowns, if necessary, to control outbreaks of the disease.

Although ministers have said they could intervene with their own measures if necessary, Dr Smith said she would be “disappointed” if a national intervention was needed in Norfolk.

She said: “I would be disappointed if there was a need for a national body to deal with something happening locally.

“We are really focused on our own local data.

“The job for us locally is to keep a really close eye on it.

“We are meeting daily, Monday to Friday and interrogating data.

“If we need to have an explanation about incidents then we are going to Public Health England to see if they might have an explanation.”

Norfolk published its own outbreak control plan at the end of last month.

An outbreak is defined as two or more cases, or can be one if it is in a high risk setting such as a care home or school.

Dr Smith said: “We are now at a stage where we are getting into single figures.

“We have got less than 10 outbreaks at the moment, the majority in care homes, but most of those cases will be closed in the next few days.”

She said such outbreaks are tackled by getting in personal protective equipment if necessary, extra cleaning, isolating people and getting them tested.

She said there had been a “small number of incidents” linked to other settings, such as schools, where it has quickly been agreed who needs to be isolated and tested.

In a number of cases, she said, it turned out there had been no positive test results.

In other parts of the UK, there have been outbreaks at meat factories, including at Kirklees in West Yorkshire and at Anglesey and Wrexham in Wales.

While Norfolk has a number of factories where food is processed, Dr Smith there had been no outbreaks at any of those in Norfolk.

She said: “We have not, to date, had concerns about outbreaks, although we are developing toolkits to get extra advice into those factories.

“The risk seems to be in cold processing areas where staff need to shout above the sound of machinery to make themselves heard - a very specific environment.

“But we are working with our colleagues in environmental health to get preparatory work done if there are any outbreaks or concerns in the future.”

Dr Smith said: “We are cautiously confident at the moment and we are very pleased that we are. It gives us, as a county, a bit of respite.

“We are not out of the woods yet, and we will be looking very closely at when the schools go back in September.

“In the meantime, people need to maintain social distancing, but we are hoping that, for the coming months, with good weather, people will be able to enjoy doing some of the activities outdoors which they weren’t able to do earlier this year.”

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