Message from Julia Burrows, Barnsley Director of Public Health - 16 July 2021

My sincere thanks go to each and every one of you who has worked with us through the last year to help protect our borough.

The road out of lockdown and living with COVID-19

From next Monday 19 July, many of the restrictions and regulations we’ve been living with for so many months will be lifted. The Prime Minister has confirmed we are not out of the era of restrictions; they are just being taken out of law, which means we are entering a new phase of continued caution.

Each of us will need to decide how to manage the ongoing risk from the virus both to ourselves and to others who may be affected by our decisions.

This is particularly relevant for places like Barnsley, where our current new case rate is the highest recorded since the start of the pandemic.

Thankfully we are not seeing large rises in hospital admissions, but we are seeing some increase in hospital admissions and the need for intensive care for adults across all ages.

The high case rate is creating a lot of disruption as a result of the ongoing need to isolate and it is causing major challenges for schools, essential services and other businesses. 

Some people are still at a greater risk if they become infected and are understandably anxious about staying safe. We can respect this by taking extra precautions around vulnerable people. We’ve seen many amazing examples of communities pulling together during the pandemic, and I hope this consideration of others can continue as we learn to live safely with a virus that is many times more infectious than influenza. 

As the Director of Public Health for Barnsley I seek to give a balanced view of the situation we find ourselves in. From past experience I know some people will think presenting a factual view is scare mongering and will say so in no uncertain terms. Others might want to see the worst-case scenario laid out even more starkly as they are fearful about what happens if we stop restrictions too quickly. 

When we talk about harm, we need to look at it in the widest sense – not just harm from Covid, but non-Covid harms, and I am worried about the worsening of a wider range of physical and mental health conditions, the impact on Barnsley people and the resulting pressure on stretched health and essential services.

Health and economy are often presented as opposing priorities, but what we and other countries have seen is that where you do the right thing to protect health it also ultimately protects the economy.   

Vaccinations

It is wonderful that those who have had two doses are at a hugely reduced risk of becoming seriously ill, which has meant the recent large increases in infection rate has thankfully not translated into the high numbers of admissions and serious illness we saw in previous waves. However, because the rates are so high and the fact that the vaccine, though extremely effective, is not 100% effective and some people are unvaccinated or have a weakened immune system, we may begin to see increased admissions to hospital.

Getting both doses of the vaccine helps us in three ways:  

  • protecting us as individuals from infection and severe disease,  
  • protecting others by reducing our ability to spread the disease,  
  • reducing how long the pandemic lasts by getting enough people vaccinated locally to control the virus and lessen the risk of new variants.

Every adult over 18 can now get the vaccine – either by booking online at www.nhs.uk/book-a-coronavirus-vaccination or calling 119 free of charge. You can also make use of the drop-in clinics that are being arranged at various locations across the borough. You can check where these are taking place at barnsleyccg.nhs.uk/covidvaccine.

Face and Space

 These are both simple behaviours which most of us are now used to, and may want to continue with, where it is possible, or where we deem it to be the safe option. You are encouraged to:

  • Welcome fresh air to your indoor meet ups 
  • Enjoy time together outside this summer 
  • Wear a face mask on public transport and other crowded indoor areas such as shops.
  • Minimise the number of people you meet with, how close you get with people you do not live with, and how long you spend with them, especially in indoor settings.

I know there will be differing views and approaches to this. However, as some people may wish to take a more cautious approach as we open back up, I hope that we can all choose to be considerate and provide the opportunity and space for others to be and feel safe. 

I’ve been an advocate for wearing face coverings in enclosed public spaces because it is a relatively simple and effective measure to help protect others. I support the recommendation that people who can wear them continue to do so when in any enclosed areas where they come into contact with others.

There is a lot of talk about freedom and getting back to normal and of course that is what we all want, but it is not as simple as it is often presented.  For example - if clinically vulnerable people feel unable to go out due to others not wearing face coverings in enclosed public places, then we will have reduced freedom overall rather than increased it.

Support to isolate

Regular Lateral Flow Testing helps you make sure you are ok, as well as protecting those around you. Please take part in this if you can. You can pick tests up from your local pharmacy. 

You can make it a safer experience for everyone, by testing negative before getting together.

It’s vital that if you or someone in your household develops any symptoms of COVID-19, however mild, that you stay at home and arrange to have a test as soon as possible. This will help protect your loved ones and our communities. You can do this at www.gov.uk/get-coronavirus-test.

You can still get local support to isolate and there is information about this at barnsley.gov.uk/covid.

Businesses and hospitality

We will actively support businesses to continue making their settings safe for staff and customers. 

Please be considerate of any asks from shops you visit, including wearing a face covering if you can and respecting other people’s space.

This pandemic had been so hard on businesses, especially the smaller and independent ones that we proudly have so many of in Barnsley, so please do all you can to keep them open.

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