How we can protect Yorkshire from Omicron – Dr Mike Gent
WITH less than a week to go before Christmas, people are heading to shops and wanting to meet up with friends and family.
We want a relaxing, enjoyable festive break this year, but we need to remember Covid-19 doesn’t take a holiday.
That is why we all need to do whatever we can to protect ourselves, those we love and our NHS, so we can make the most of the festive season.
Early evidence indicates the Omicron variant is more transmissible than previous strains, and we expect to see at least half of Covid-19 cases caused by Omicron in the next two to four weeks, and up to one million infections by the end of the month.
We’re now seeing confirmed community transmission of Omicron, including in this region.
While we have seen fewer Omicron cases in Yorkshire than most other regions so far, we really cannot be complacent. While we need more time to understand fully the severity of this variant, we do know hospitalisation rates in South Africa are going up.
Even if Omicron proves to be less severe, its rapid spread mean likely increases in hospitalisations – adding real pressure to the NHS over the winter months.
What can we do? The things we have done over so much of the last two years will still play a huge part – washing and sanitising our hands; wearing face coverings when we’re out shopping, socialising, in places of worship and public transport; working from home where possible and ventilating our homes regularly.
Testing also has a vital role in reducing the spread of this virus. So if you are going to be mixing with lots of people outside your household – if you’re planning to head to a party, for a drink or meal, to the theatre, cinema or a gig – you should take a lateral flow test (LFT) before heading out.
From last week you’ve needed to either show your NHS Covid Pass at nightclubs, some venues and large events to show you’re fully vaccinated, have had a negative test result in the last 48 hours, or you have an exemption.
If you have any symptoms, please get a PCR test as quickly as possible, isolate until you either get a negative result confirmed, or until 10 days have passed from symptoms starting.
University students heading home for holidays should take a rapid test before travelling, and LFTs are available at pharmacies, who receive regular fresh supplies of testing kits.
We want people to balance enjoying themselves with staying safe and keeping others safe.
That’s why contacts of a confirmed case of Covid-19 who have had two doses of the vaccine or are under 18 should now take a daily LFT for seven days.
Anyone who has not received their first two doses of the vaccine must still isolate for 10 days.
While the full detailed impacts of this variant may not be known, we know vaccines remain our best line of defence.
Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are highly effective boosters – with effectiveness against the new variant appearing to increase considerably in the early period after a booster dose, providing around 70 to 75 per cent protection against symptomatic infection.
That is why people across Yorkshire and the Humber need to get vaccinated, get boosted, get protected.
The vaccination programme has already delivered well over 24 million booster doses across the UK, with more than three million people across Yorkshire and the Humber receiving their booster dose.
A huge thank-you is owed to everyone involved in delivering that work, and everyone taking up the vaccine offer.
We also know some people, including a number of pregnant women, haven’t have any vaccine doses at all.
It isn’t too late to take up vaccination, so if you know people who have hesitated, please encourage them to get the protection vaccines offer.
As well as Covid-19 vaccination, we also encourage eligible people to get their flu vaccine, so that they are protected for the risk flu may bring this winter.
We’ve all been handwashing, testing and wearing face coverings for a long time now, and all these play a part reducing infection. Along with vaccination, they can help life go on during the pandemic.
There are so many people who have worked so hard to play a part in tackling Covid-19 in Yorkshire and Humber to be thanked for their efforts and we can all play our part too, helping make it a happier and healthier festive season and New Year.
Dr Mike Gent is the Yorkshire and Humber region deputy director for the UK Health Security Agency.
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