That was the message from the county’s director of public health just hours after it was revealed that the whole of Lancashire would be placed into Tier 3 when the national lockdown ends next week.
Dr. Sakthi Karunanithi said that the region was making the case to the government for Lancashire to be close to the front of the vaccine queue.
“Some areas are very much having structural issues [in relation to the spread of Covid].
“However much people try, they live in poorer conditions - and it’s important that Lancashire gets prioritised for the rollout of the mass vaccination programme.
“Until we get [to] that, it’s always going to be [a matter of] handwashing, face-covering, making space - and one form of social-mixing restrictions or another,” said Dr. Karunanithi, who thanked residents and frontline workers for their efforts in combating the virus.
He also hinted that the controversial Tier 3 status could ultimately see troops on the streets in some parts of the county to deliver a mass testing programme, along similar lines to that which is taking place in Liverpool.
Lancashire has this week begun to deploy a smaller-scale screening initiative, which will see certain key sectors targeted - starting with staff in council-run day services and progressing to those working in schools and the emergency services. Under that arrangement, there will eventually be sufficient capacity to test 10 percent of the county’s 1.5 million population.
“We are looking to work with the government on the back of the Tier 3 announcement for a whole different scale of mass testing going forward,” Dr. Karunanithi told a press conference.
He added that if a “differential approach” is used to taking individual districts out of Tier 3 when the status is reviewed in a fortnight, then western areas of the county would “probably meet those criteria before others - but the decision is made nationally”.
Speaking separately to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Dr. Karunanithi also urged Lancashire residents to be cautious over the Christmas season.
Earlier this week, the government said that mixing would be permitted between three households over a five-day period from 23rd December to enable families to meet up over the festive period.
However, Dr. Karunanithi warned: “Just because we all could doesn't mean we all should.”
“We need to be making smarter and safer choices, especially where there are family members who are elderly or have chronic diseases.
“So what we do before Christmas - and during it - will determine how cheerfully the new year dawns.”
The public health boss suggested that Lancashire may issue its own Christmas Covid message after an assessment of local case rates nearer the time - and warned that any spike in cases as a result of a care-free Christmas would be likely to feed through into the NHS at the time when it was traditionally at its busiest with the usual annual winter pressures.
Dr. Karunanithi appealed for people to keep their eyes focused on the hope that is on the horizon when deciding what to do during the holiday period.
“The only thing that has got the virus down is all of our hard work.
“We are so close to the runway, we are descending and we want it to be a safe landing - not to take off again. So let’s not take our seatbelts off just yet,” he urged.