Yorkshire health chief says it would be 'daft' to open up society too quickly in wake of falling coronavirus cases
He added it was likely the government would look at opening up by sectors - including schools - rather than easing restrictions in some local areas as the previous tier system did.
Mr Kingdom said: “The timing of easing restrictions will be dictated by case numbers and rates. At the moment we’re looking at case numbers in the 450s, that’s potentially up to 450 people wondering around with coronavirus infecting other people.
“The Kent variant’s changed the variables and our calculations on this, we’ve now got something that could go from an infection rate of 100 per 100,000 to 400 per 100,000 much quicker.
“We’ve lost nearly 700 people in the East Riding to coronavirus now, that’s the price we’ve paid in lives but also in the trauma that causes for their families and the health and care staff working with them.
“It would be daft to open up too early because we’re in a good position. We can’t blow it now.”
The Kent variant of coronavirus now accounts for around three quarters of new cases in the East Riding and two thirds of Hull’s, he added. He said said the strain was now the dominant one in East Yorkshire after supplanting existing variants, but he added variants were to be expected as coronavirus continues to evolve and different strains compete to infect the most people.
It meant strains that were easier to catch but also milder would likely win out, meaning coronavirus could gradually become more like seasonal flu, he said.
The director said although the Kent variant had taken hold across East Yorkshire, case numbers were continuing to fall as the effects of lockdown, coronavirus rules and vaccinations are felt.
Mr Kingdom said: “This week has been a good week, we’re now seeing the infection rate per 100,000 people at around 147 whereas it was as high as 600 or 700 just a couple of weeks ago. We’ve brought the numbers down and that trend seems to be accelerating.
“But our numbers are still high, we need to be able to get into double and then single figures. The situation now is like the last 20 minutes of a football match where we’ve been down for most of the game but we’ve made a comeback.
“We need to concentrate on this and keep going until the final whistle blows, because we don’t want to go into extra time or face a rematch.
“I’m as desperate as anyone to get back to some form of normality, but I’d sacrifice a couple of weeks of enjoyment if it meant not having to spend months more in lockdown because when we loosen restrictions the numbers can shoot back up very quickly.”
Mr Kingdom said the arrival of the more infectious Kent variant meant cases could rise quicker still.
The director said: “New variants were to be expected, it’s the way viruses evolve. There’s thousands of variants of coronavirus out there, some worry us, some we study out of interest and a lot don’t make a difference.
“These new variants aren’t necessarily more dangerous, it’s better for the virus if it’s milder because then we don’t mobilise society to fight it as we have done with coronavirus.
“So as time goes on coronavirus could eventually be something that exists more in the background like flu or colds we have, it will make people feel unwell but not have some of the more serious effects we see now.
“The big question is the vaccines, some of the newer ones have been developed when the Kent variant was already infecting people. It will probably reduce the effectiveness of vaccines, but that will be from 95 per cent to 60 or 70 per cent, and if it’s effective to that level that’s still very good by World Health Organisation (WHO) standards.
“But we still need to take it seriously, with social distancing stick to two metres, not one or one and a half, wear face masks whenever you’re required to and keep following the basics because although it’s simple stuff we know those measures are effective.”