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Coronavirus may have peaked in Norfolk, but public health boss says too soon to confirm

PUBLISHED: 17:16 23 April 2020 | UPDATED: 09:30 24 April 2020

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

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

Archant

Norfolk looks to be close to its peak for coronavirus cases, but the county’s director of public health says it is too soon to say for certain.

The outbreak has brought a tragic toll, with 207 people with the disease having died in the county’s hospitals.

Health secretary Matt Hancock recently said the UK was at the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak and Dr Louise Smith, director of public health in Norfolk, said there did seem to be a levelling off in the county.

She said: “I think we are seeing the same pattern as the UK. Because our numbers in Norfolk are smaller, they are a bit more up and down, but it does look like a levelling off for deaths, for hospital admissions and for admissions into intensive care.

“Because our numbers are smaller, we won’t be able to say for sure that they are going down yet, but they seem to be plateauing.”

Dr Smith said the lockdown did seem to have curtailed community transmission, but there was no room for complacency.

But she said there were serious concerns about the spread in health and care settings.

She said: “Nationally, what scientific advisors are telling us is that we are now seeing two different outbreaks - the one in the general community, where not so many people are getting the infection and the one in the health and social care sector.”

She said that was why it was important to increase testing for key workers, but it was proving difficult to get those systems set up. Between 500 to 600 tests have been done, but she said the ambition was for a “much higher number”.

Testing teams are beginning to go into care homes to check specific residents suspected of having the virus.

She said: “The number of cases that are coming through is going up, so we are putting more resources to go in and identify where the outbreaks are.

“It’s not about testing everyone in the care home, but once there are five or more cases, it is reasonable to assume everyone will probably have it, so they should be managed as if they do.

“We are really concerned about vulnerable people in care homes. We know we are getting outbreaks and taking it very seriously.”

She said a system was in place so the council could get personal protective equipment to care homes - prioritising where it is most needed.

Behavioural experts considering lockdown easing

Different sections of the population could be asked to behave in different ways when the coronavirus lockdown is eventually eased, Norfolk’s director of public health has said.

An empty Great Yarmouth seafront during COVID19 lockdown. Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMANAn empty Great Yarmouth seafront during COVID19 lockdown. Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMAN

The chief medical officer Chris Whitty said at a briefing this week that social distancing measures were likely to be in place for the rest of the year.

But there is increasing pressure for them to be eased at some stage and Dr Louise Smith, Norfolk’s public health director, said when they are it could be different for various sections of society.

She said: “It’s likely that we will see the population being asked to behave differently. Advice is being brought in by behavioural experts to work through how the population mixes.

“For example, the way society mixes is very different in London, where people use the tube, to a rural shire like Norfolk, so they are trying to work through how that might work.”

Health secretary Matt Hancock answers questions from the media during a daily briefing at10 Downing Street. Picture: PA WireHealth secretary Matt Hancock answers questions from the media during a daily briefing at10 Downing Street. Picture: PA Wire

She added that judgements would need to be made over when it would be right to reopen shops and schools, with modelling only able to provide information - not a decision.

And she said even once schools are back open, it could still be some time before visitors were allowed in care homes and shielded members of the community could still need to stay indoors.

Dr Smith added that debate was continuing over the benefits or otherwise of expecting the general population to wear masks.


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