Message from Julia Burrows, Barnsley Director of Public Health – 10 December 2021

Omicron

We have known since early on in the pandemic we can expect new Covid variants, and we know what actions we need to take when confronted with a new variant of concern. 

There is invariably a period of uncertainty with unanswered questions such as: Is it more transmissible? Does it cause more severe disease?  Will the vaccine still work? 

It will take weeks or even longer to get the answers to these questions as the information takes time to accumulate.

As with the Delta variant, the first cases came from overseas travel and will be followed by community transmission – which we are already seeing in the UK. It is inevitable we will very soon start seeing Omicron cases in Barnsley and it is entirely possible we already have some undetected cases. We do know already that case rates are rising fast elsewhere.

This is all within a context where we still have high levels of Delta variant cases across the UK. Our COVID-19 infection rate is currently below the national average and we have seen ongoing slow decreases in our over 60s rates. 

This is good news and there is no doubt that getting the booster vaccination is being incredibly effective at boosting immunity and protecting our older population from serious disease – more than was ever thought possible.

But we still have a far higher COVID-19 infection rate than we did when the Delta variant took hold and that is not in our favour.  High numbers of cases are a problem when we know a proportion of those infected will end up in hospital – a small proportion of a very large number can still be very significant.   

How should we respond to Omicron given all the uncertainty and unanswered questions?  

We should certainly not panic but there is enough to be concerned about to mean we really do need to be even more cautious and use what we’ve learned over the past two years by:

  • Getting vaccinated if you haven’t already. It’s never too late to get your first and second vaccinations, and the booster dose is crucial when invited.
  • Isolating and getting a PCR test if any symptoms of COVID-19 appear or you have a positive LFT (lateral flow test)
  • Cases and contacts of any COVID positive cases to follow the instructions from NHS Test and Trace or the NHS COVID-19 app about isolation
  • Wearing masks in enclosed public spaces. Evidence has mounted over the past 18 months about the effectiveness of this in reducing transmission from person to person.

We know the science is moving very fast so things will change quickly over the next few weeks. Delaying the spread of Omicron as much as possible will give more time for more people to have their booster vaccination. 

Even if it is it established that the current vaccination is less effective against Omicron, it is more important than ever to get high vaccination uptake, and especially get the booster vaccination to our older age groups. It will put us in a stronger position as a population to withstand the increase in cases from a new variant.

We’ve had an outbreak management plan in place since June 2020, to help us tackle local outbreaks quickly and effectively. It will ensure that communities and settings can respond should we have connected Omicron cases.

 

Socialising

Social interaction is key to our mental wellbeing and it’s important to support our local economy and hospitality industry while keeping ourselves and others as safe as possible.  Some people may decide to reduce some avoidable social contact. Each contact poses a risk and prioritising the more important ones makes sense.  However, when you do decide to go out and meet people, stepping up measures to reduce transmission matters more than ever

As a guide, safer socialising should include the following precautions (these are effective against all Covid variants):

  • Participants taking LFT before the event
  • Not going to meet people if you have symptoms and getting a PCR test as soon as possible.
  • Good ventilation of indoor spaces.
  • Wearing face coverings in places where it is crowded even if you take them off when sitting down at a table or eating and drinking.
  • Washing your hands regularly, particularly when arriving at an event and when you get home.

You will be aware that the Government has issued further guidance which we have summarised for your convenience at barnsley.gov.uk/covid.

Thank you to everyone for doing what you can to help reduce the transmission of COVID-19 across our borough.   

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