Freedom Day in Bristol as the city wakes up to a new normal

PHE South West Regional Director calls for ‘common sense and courtesy’

As Cornwall Live reports, Professor Debbie Stark, PHE South West Regional Director and NHS Regional Director of Public Health for the South West writes:

Monday will mark the most significant milestone for the country in almost 16 months with the lifting of COVID-19 legal restrictions and something resembling a return to normality.

But as a region, we still have a lot of work to do if we are to make this transition smoothly, because the virus will not disappear from Monday and we’re not in a position where we can say there is no risk.

Cases are increasing in the South West and they are expected to rise further over the coming weeks, especially as we mix more with others.

We also know that a large number of people will be coming to visit our region and support local businesses that have been most affected by the pandemic.

We all need to do our best to support each other and keep ourselves and those visitors safe. Covid isn’t taking a holiday this year.

Social distancing and stay at home rules have protected us all during the pandemic and have enabled us to suppress the virus at vital times to keep our NHS from being overwhelmed.

The success of the vaccine rollout undertaken by our incredible NHS colleagues means we can get moving independently again.

But rising cases remains a problem because, although deaths and hospitalisations are lower thanks to the success of the vaccination programme, COVID-19 is a virus you really do not want to catch. It can still make you very sick, and many people suffering from long Covid are experiencing ill effects weeks and months after they tested positive.

The risks of falling ill are especially great for those who have not yet had both doses of the vaccine, in the South West 65% of people have had both doses, but this means 35% are not fully protected and are still at risk. We also know that no vaccine is 100% effective.

Vulnerable groups are also at higher risk of more serious illness if they catch COVID and not everyone in this group will have been vaccinated.

Getting both jabs and completing your vaccination course is the only way to ensure strong protection against the virus, so it remains vital people keep coming forward for the vaccine. The more protection we have, the more we minimise the impact of a rise in cases this summer.

From Monday, whilst there will no longer be a need to legally enforce rules like mask wearing and social distancing, we all need to use our own judgement, common sense and courtesy when making decisions. Just because the rules say you can do something, doesn’t mean you have to.

We know the virus is present, we know it can make us very sick, we also know that 1 in 3 of us with Covid won’t display any symptoms. So if we’re in crowded spaces or on public transport, do wear a mask and try to keep a distance, especially whilst rates are going up. Also remember to keep washing your hands thoroughly and more often than usual, especially before and after getting on public transport or getting in from work, shops or the pub etc.

Meet outside where you can and if meeting inside, make sure the space is well ventilated.

Importantly, we will still have a responsibility to look out for one another in the same ways we have done over the past 16 months and show courtesy to one another.

If we are feeling unwell, don’t risk passing on the virus and making others sick – self-isolate and get a test. We should still also be taking up the offer of twice weekly LFD tests.

If others around us are wearing a mask, let us be respectful and keep a distance – they may be feeling uneasy about the reopening or be conscious that they may be protecting others by wearing one. If we know we are meeting up with friends and family, minimise the risk of passing on the virus by meeting outside as much as possible.

By thinking of others, recognising these sensitivities and showing respect, we can make this transition safer for everyone.

People across the South West have made huge personal sacrifices since the start of the pandemic and we’ve been through difficulties we never expected to see, we’ve seen variants of concern identified in our region and new variants may still arise.

It is right that we look forward to Monday 19 July with anticipation and excitement, but also an awareness that this is not all over and we all still have a role to play in keeping the South West and those that visit our region safe.

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