Coronavirus is with us for the foreseeable future. Liverpool’s Director of Public Health Matt Ashton explains why we all have to remain cautious to prevent a second wave.
Over the last few months, we have all made considerable sacrifices in order to get the Covid-19 coronavirus infection rates down. Whether it’s not being able to see loved ones or friends or being unable to socialise and go out to the places we know and love, it’s been really hard for everyone. Thankfully we have seen communities across the whole city pull together in our common efforts against the virus.
Despite this, in Liverpool almost 600 people have died as a result of contracting Covid-19, and almost another 1,000 cases across the rest of Merseyside. One top of that, thousands more in our city have suffered what has been a very debilitating illness, with a long recovery period, and potentially longer term health implications in years to come, even for the very healthy with no underlying conditions.
Recently, lockdown has begun to ease, and life as we knew it prior to Covid-19 is starting to get back to normal, with shops, pubs, restaurants and workplaces starting to reopen. However, we are now at the most dangerous point for the virus, as it is still circulating in low levels in our communities, and therefore we all need to remain cautious to make sure it remains under control. This is what life is going to be like for the foreseeable future, us living with Covid, rather than getting over Covid.
Last week, my team were given data which showed a rise in confirmed cases in parts of south and east Liverpool, particularly among young people aged 15-24. While the case numbers weren’t particularly large – less than half a dozen for each ward – I was alarmed, because the time lag in data coming through meant the information was already two weeks old and in the meantime the virus could well have spread to many more people. So, we ordered a mobile testing unit to be placed in Woolton over the weekend, and issued a strong message through our own communications channels and the media urging people to observe social distancing measures and get tested if they have symptoms.
Make no mistake: this is going to be the way of things for some time to come. We don’t have a vaccine or other effective treatment at the moment, so that means we have to find ways of minimising the spread of the virus. Identifying local flare ups will get faster, as the quality and speed of the data that we are getting improves, and you will see testing stations popping up now and again near your house in the coming months as we seek to control the spread. Getting tested may well become as routine as going to the doctor to have your blood pressure checked, in the same way that wearing a face covering may become as routine as wearing a seat belt.
I know some people are confused and sceptical at the blizzard of sometimes conflicting messages and statistics about coronavirus. This is partly because we are still in the very early stages of understanding how it works, but people should not be under the illusion that this is anything but a very serious illness. Many who have died have had an underlying health condition but, crucially, would still be alive were it not for them contracting coronavirus. Speak to anyone who works in the NHS and they will tell you the cruel reality of this illness.
The issue around young people is a complex one. The evidence shows that younger people are at a lower risk of serious health complications, however, we know that asymptomatic transmission is happening in our communities, so although young people may be at lower personal risk, they are a key transmission route into potentially vulnerable people, and therefore it is essential that we all follow the same set of rules and guidelines, not just to keep individuals well, but to help keep the whole city healthy.
There is no doubt that it has been a steep learning curve for all of the agencies involved in dealing with what is the first serious pandemic we have had since for almost a century. My hope is that we get to a situation where there is real-time data to help us react quickly. In the meantime, our strong and effective relationships with schools, care homes, hospitals, businesses, and wider voluntary, community and faith sector is already providing us with fantastic intelligence which is helping greatly in our response.
The basic public health advice has remained pretty much the same all the way through this:
- we all need to wash our hands regularly and practice good hand hygiene
- we need to keep our distance, maintaining social distancing of two metres wherever possible
- we need to avoid crowds, as these have the potential to spread the virus quicker
- we need to keep to a minimum the number of households we have close contact with
- we all need to cover our faces when we are out in public, and especially when we go to the shops or are in confined spaces. If I wear a face covering I will be protecting you, and if you wear one, you will be protecting me.
Crucially of course, if we are not well or develop symptoms (new continuous cough, fever, loss of smell or taste) then we absolutely must self-isolate and get ourselves tested as soon as possible.
And please remember, this is not just about our own individual risk, but the chances of us passing it on to your own family and friends, some of whom may be vulnerable and could become seriously ill. If everyone follows the guidance we can continue to control the spread and minimise the impact on ourselves and our loved ones, and we can avoid the need for another lockdown, something I am sure we all are keen on not repeating.
Thanks as always for your support. Be Kind, Be Safe, Be Responsible. Visit nhs.uk/coronavirus for the latest information and advice.