Threat of covid variants will remain 'for years' - but North East health chiefs are ready

Health chiefs will keep covid plans in place ‘for years’ while working to tackle ‘unfairness’ in the North East as the region emerges from covid.
Health chiefs say the vaccine is the best line of defence.Health chiefs say the vaccine is the best line of defence.
Health chiefs say the vaccine is the best line of defence.

Final covid restrictions lifted on April 1, with the UK working to an approach of learning to live with the disease.

But as the Government recognises it could take years before the threat of dangerous new variants wains, health leaders in the North East say they will remain vigilant and keep careful plans in place.

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Public health directors from the LA7 group of councils, comprising of Sunderland, South Tyneside, Durham, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Gateshead and Northumberland have now released a statement setting out the road ahead.

They are urging people to get vaccinated, take up the offer of booster jabs, and avoid contact with others if they show symptoms of Covid-19.

“Thanks to high vaccination coverage in the North East, which is protecting tens of thousands of people from severe illness, hospitalisation or even death, we are in a very different place to when the pandemic began,” it reads.

“However, we appreciate that while the removal of restrictions on April 1 might have been welcomed by some, it will cause worry to others.

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“As we adapt to living with Covid, we should follow simple public health advice to help keep ourselves and others as safe as possible, especially those most at risk.

"We stood together as one North East community throughout this pandemic, and we must all continue to do our bit. We have seen an increase in cases recently and we should not drop our guard and assume the virus has gone away.”

The health chiefs said standard public health advice for all significant and transmissible infections is to try to avoid contact with others.

"We should treat Covid-19 in the same way,” they said.

"Those who do not feel well, should try to stay at home, and those unable to do so please consider taking precautions, such as avoiding those who may be more vulnerable and wearing face coverings.

“If you’re unsure of the symptoms, you can check the up-to-date list on the NHS website and bear in mind that symptoms can feel very similar to colds or flu.”

The LA7 members said the covid vaccine ‘will always be our best defence against the virus’ and ‘every person who gets vaccinated adds another layer of protection to our region’.

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The statement added: “Measures we have become accustomed to – like wearing a face covering in crowded indoor spaces and health and social care settings, ventilating rooms, practising good respiratory hygiene, and washing hands thoroughly and regularly – will continue to be sensible and effective in protecting you not only from Covid but other illnesses as well.

“The next step for us, as Directors of Public Health, is helping our communities to live safely – especially those most vulnerable – responding to any variants and subsequent surges in infection rates, and to focus on what we’ve learnt over the last two years, so we are ready to react if the virus threatens our communities again.

“The Government recognises that it could take years before the threat of dangerous new variants subsides and we will need to maintain contingency plans and our readiness to respond. Together, we will continue to adapt to changes, as we have throughout the pandemic, whenever we need to.”

They added: “While there is no doubt about the direct impact of the virus on our region, we have at the same time been left with a legacy of new ways of working, strong partnerships, community spirit and new relationships across our communities.

“The pandemic has highlighted unfair differences in the experience of health and wellbeing across our communities. We don’t think this is good enough for our region, so we are focusing our efforts, during this next phase, to reduce these differences aiming to give everyone a fairer chance.

“We know how difficult the last two years have been for everybody, so to the North East – to each and every one of you – thank you for all that you have done and continue to do.

“Our region has a reputation for looking out for one another and we’re sure this will be no different as we move forward together.”