Health chief’s stark warning: ‘The virus doesn’t care we changed the rules’
- Credit: CCG
Call it ‘an audience with...’ and he’d pack a theatre. Dr Gary Howsam is the real deal.
Covid-19 took him from daily life as a GP to the task force called to help the whole of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.
As chair of the clinical commissioning group - it plans NHS services for nearly 90 GP practices – he has been at the forefront #DoTheRightThing.
Dr Howsam is approachable, thoughtful and recognises the efforts of NHS colleagues.
“I’m proud of how the health sector has stepped up to the plate – the toll on all staff has been immense. But they have done a fantastic job and those on the ground are all heroes.”
But we are not out of the ‘Covid woods’ yet.
“Nothing changed on July 19,” he says. “To say on July 18, we went from high risk to no risk is simply not true.
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“The virus doesn’t care we have changed the law; the virus doesn’t care we changed the rules.
“What the virus will take note of is the fact we have changed our behaviours – and it's still too early to judge that as we haven’t yet seen all the consequences of those behaviour changes.”
“The virus is still a big threat to our health, to our way of living, to ourselves and to our economy.”
He says: “The simple hands, face, space, ventilate messages are equally important today.
“Yes, it is important to come forward and have your vaccination, but it is still important to continue to wear masks in many circumstances.”
“If you feel it doesn't impact on your personal choices then it remains a great help to your family and vulnerable people to do your bit to keep them safe and it is a great help to others.”
“I have always said my role as a leader of the health system locally is an absolute privilege but with that comes responsibility.
“I still put my mask on in supermarket even though I am double vaccinated. I don’t feel it is a huge imposition on my liberty or choices to wear a mask to protect others”
He says he has seen consequences – as a family doctor – of those with medical issues and are at a higher risk of Covid.
Wearing a mask “feels the right thing to do” he says.
“We want the exit route from the pandemic to be as smooth as is possible,” he says.
“We do not know what is round the corner; we need to be conscious that we may take two steps forward and one step backward.”
Dr Howsam adds: “I am not a politician but a clinician - politicians have to make decisions and change laws.
“As a clinician I can give a more balanced opinion, matching risks and benefits about certain behaviours which we may follow.
“I am concerned as a society we do everything to keep this pandemic at bay because the fall out is going to go on for a huge amount of time.”
For the immediate future vaccination is the priority, and latest figures show 73 per cent of 18-24-year-olds have had their first jab.
Across Cambridgeshire, up to July 18, 1.13 million first and second doses had been given and the target is to ensure all eligible people have both.
“We know case numbers are high, but those hospitalised or dying is reduced and that is largely because of vaccine.
“We know vaccines are safe and effective and we have a plentiful supply.”
No rest then but there are still moments of quiet celebration.
“There are three moments - the first when we started getting the vaccine last December.
“That heralded an important change in our ability to combat the pandemic.
“The second was when we surpassed one million doses – I am incredibly proud of that huge logistical event, and it gave me great confidence.
“And the third? When my youngest got his vaccination and everyone in my family started to have the vaccine and get protected.”
His son was vaccinated at Doddington on his 18th birthday.
His dad described it as a ‘birthday present from the NHS”