Public health chief urges caution as COVID-19 restrictions are eased

Hertfordshire residents are urged to remain cautious despite the easing of COVID-19 restrictions

Hertfordshire residents are urged to remain cautious despite the easing of COVID-19 restrictions - Credit: PA

Herts public health chief Jim McManus is urging residents not to drop their guard, despite the relaxation of COVID restrictions.

From Monday, May 17, indoor restaurants, pubs, theatres, cinemas and other venues have been allowed to open their doors.

And residents have been allowed to invite up to six people into their homes – even allowing them to stay overnight.

Cases of COVID-19 across the county are much lower than they had been in January and February – with latest figures showing 168 cases in the past seven days.

But Mr McManus stresses that the virus – including the more transmissible Indian variant – is still circulating across the county.

And, with further outbreaks expected as restrictions are eased, he is calling on residents, saying: "Don’t let rip – just be cautious".

Speaking on Wednesday, May 19, he said: “Just don’t go mad.

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“Don’t do everything you can do – just think about the fact that the more people you meet, the higher the risk is.”

Mr McManus recommends limiting the number of people residents meet with indoors – avoiding mixing with strangers and remaining outdoors, if possible.

Jim McManus, Hertfordshire Public Health Chief

Jim McManus, Hertfordshire Public Health Chief - Credit: Hertfordshire County Council

Although levels of the virus have ‘plateaued’ in the county Mr McManus stresses that the virus is still circulating – and there are still outbreaks.

And Mr McManus expects there to be further outbreaks in the county, as restrictions ease.

“The virus is still circulating,” he sad.

“It has plateaued – it has not gone away. And there is no sign of it accepting our invitation to leave on June 21.

“It is still here – and we are still seeing levels of circulation – and we are still seeing outbreaks.

“As more things open we expect to see more outbreaks – and I keep saying it’s volatile, but fasten your seat belts. It is going to be  bumpy for the next month or so – we expect that.”

Pointing to the outbreaks and the ‘new variant of concern’, Mr McManus points to the need to be "cautious, not complacent" – but "not frightened".

Although the dominant variant in Hertfordshire remains the so-called Kent variant, there have been 44 cases of the more transmissible Indian variants reported since April 19.

And commenting specifically on the Indian variant, Mr McManus stresses that the usual prevention measures – which include  ‘hands, face and space’ – will halt the spread.

“I would say the Indian variant is a concern – but it’s not something we should be frightened of,” he said.

“So take the key measures you need to to reduce your own risk – and if you do that, and we do our bit, we should be all right.

“But if you just think that’s it, you don’t need to take any precautions now at all, then  we will see cases rise – as indeed we have outside Hertfordshire – significantly.”

Mr McManus says they expect to find cases of the COVID-19 variants – including the Indian variant – in most parts of the county.

Around 10 per cent of positive test samples from the county are being sent for ‘sequencing’, which identifies the variant.

And the county has a new variance incident management team – to look at local reports of new variants in the county.

Meanwhile public health officials are also working to promote vaccine uptake and regular lateral flow testing, as well as contact tracing.

According to the government’s roadmap, restrictions could be eased further from as early as June 21.

Mr McManus says – based on ‘the numbers’ – its still too soon to determine whether the restrictions will be eased.

The last couple of months, he says, have shown that restrictions can be lifted and the virus suppressed – provided the right actions are taken by individuals.

But he says there are a number of possible scenarios going forward, dependent on whether people managed the risk to low levels – or not.

And he said there were still  concerns nationally that if we didn’t manage our risk down individually and personally that we may see a significant surge in numbers.

Meanwhile following the easing of restrictions this week, Mr McManus has highlighted the action taken by restaurants, suggesting: “Restaurants will be very safe because they have worked hard".