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Do not lower your guard over coronavirus, Norfolk public health boss warns

PUBLISHED: 14:46 18 June 2020 | UPDATED: 14:46 18 June 2020

Louise Smith, director of public health in Norfolk, says she is concerned people are not using hand sanitiser while shopping. Picture: PA/Ella Wilkinson

Louise Smith, director of public health in Norfolk, says she is concerned people are not using hand sanitiser while shopping. Picture: PA/Ella Wilkinson

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A plea has been issued for people not to give up social distancing and hand cleaning because they think they are safe from coronavirus - because the pandemic is still circulating in Norfolk.

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

The county’s director of public health said, even though the re-opening of shops marks a significant landmark in the battle against the virus, it is still too soon for people to lower their guard.

And Dr Louise Smith urged people to wear masks while in shops, to stay spaced apart and to make use of gels to wash hands, saying she was concerned that people were not doing so.

She said: “The number of cases in Norfolk is now very low, so the risk has clearly been reduced. But the risk is still there - coronavirus has not gone away.

“We are still diagnosing cases in Norfolk nearly every day. We know this is a virus which passes easily from person to person and that you can pass it on before you know you have got it.

A customer wearing a face mask at the Thetford Garden Centre during the Coronavirus lockdown. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYA customer wearing a face mask at the Thetford Garden Centre during the Coronavirus lockdown. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

“That tells us that we need to continue to be cautious and maintain all the basic measures of social distancing, hand hygiene and not gathering in too big groups.

“There is very definitely a risk that the number of cases could rise.”

Dr Smith said people going shopping needed to understand that they would need to behave very differently - following one way systems and keeping two metres apart from other people.

She added: “We are still advising people to do what they can to protect themselves and I would really encourage people to wear face masks or coverings.”

A Coronavirus hand sanitiser station. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYA Coronavirus hand sanitiser station. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

While masks and face coverings have been made mandatory on public transport, people have not been told they must wear them on other occasions, but Dr Smith advised people to.

She said: “Those coverings are not medical grade ones, which would protect against catching the virus, but what they can do is, if you sneeze or cough, they can help stop you from spreading it to other people. They can make a difference.”

She said masks should be washed after each use and that people should clean their hands after removing them, advising people to take bottles of hand sanitiser out with them.

And she said people should make use of gels offered at shops and supermarkets. She said: “On the few occasions when I have been out, I am not seeing people using those hand gels or wearing face masks. I would really encourage people to do so.”

Shoppers socially distance in a queue at Primark's in Norwich. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYShoppers socially distance in a queue at Primark's in Norwich. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Dr Smith added that anybody who suspected they might have the virus, with symptoms such as a temperature, a cough or loss of smell or taste, should go online or call 101 and order a test.

In the meantime, they should stay at home until they receive a negative test result or for seven days. She said: “That will protect you and your friends and family.”

Test and trace

About 70 people in Norfolk who test positive for COVID-19 and enter the NHS tracing system are being traced each week, Dr Louise Smith said.

But she said it would be essential that data being collected is shared fully if Norfolk County Council is to be able to manage local outbreaks in the months ahead.

National figures showed 14,045 people who tested positive for the virus in England had their case transferred to the NHS Test and Trace contact tracing system during the first two weeks of its operation, according to the figures.

Of these, 10,192 people (73pc) were reached and asked to provide details of recent contacts. Some 3,435 (25pc) people were not reached and a further 418 (3pc) did not provide contact details.

Dr Smith said the figures for Norfolk were “in line with the number of positive tests we would have expected”.

But she said: “I don’t have the data locally to know whether the people who are diagnosed as positive in our local system are definitely going through test and trace. That is data I would very much like to have.

“We are at a tipping point between what we have been doing in looking at the overall level of data for Norfolk to moving towards much more specific, clinical level data about care for individuals.

“That’s a very different level of data and, at the moment, the national strategy and system is not established for that to be managed at a local level.”

The council is working to put together an outbreak control plan and Dr Smith said: “The debate we are having is where and when local systems will be asked to receive the data and take action to respond to local outbreaks.”

She said local lockdowns could see individual buildings, such as businesses, care facilities or schools hit by a cluster of coronavirus cases asked to close, but she said she hoped headteachers and bosses would do that voluntarily, rather than councils having to wield powers.

There had been 2,230 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Norfolk up to end of June 17 and 453 coronavirus-related deaths.


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