Covid self-isolation changes: Lancashire urged to keep its guard up when legal rules are relaxed

Lancashire’s public health boss has appealed to people to carry on “doing the right thing” and take the precautions that will soon no longer be legally required if they contract Covid-19.

By Paul Faulkner
Monday, 21st February 2022, 9:37 pm

Dr. Sakthi Karunanithi made the call after the Prime Minister announced on Monday afternoon that the law ordering infected people to self-isolate will end this Thursday.

Those with the virus will still be encouraged to stay at home if they catch it before 1st April - but Boris Johnson said that after that date they would be advised to take “personal responsibility” for their actions.

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Lancashire County Council's director of public health Dr. Sakthi Karunanithi and Preston City Council leader Matthew Brown both want people to carry on self-isolating if they test positive for Covid

Free symptomatic and asymptomatic testing will also stop at that point for most people, but kits will remain available for those displaying symptoms if they are elderly or in a listed vulnerable group.

Routine contact tracing will come to an end later this week and fully vaccinated close contacts of positive cases will no longer be required by law to test daily for seven days.

However, Dr. Karunanithi urged people not to forget everything that had been learned over the last two years.

"The people of Lancashire have made so many sacrifices for the greater good and for that I am so grateful. While legal restrictions are ending, we will still need to follow simple steps if we are to live safely with Covid-19.

"That means…isolating if you have Covid-like symptoms, just as you would with any other highly infectious disease. Please also be kind and respect people's personal choice to wear, or not wear, a face mask,” said Dr. Karunanithi, who also reminded people that it was “never too late” to get vaccinated if they have not yet had their full complement of jabs.

Booster jab rates in Lancashire currently range from 44 to 71 percent, with Chorley and South Ribble both performing relatively well at just under 66 percent.

However, just under half of Preston’s eligible population has so far received a booster shot - the third-lowest rate in Lancashire - and the leader of Preston City Council echoed Dr. Karunanithi’s call for continued caution.

Matthew Brown described the decision to scrap mandatory self-isolation as “shortsighted”.

Covid case rates have fallen fast across Central Lancashire in recent weeks - with new daily infections now in the low dozens compared to between 600 and 800 at the height of the Omicron wave around the turn of the year.

The number of people in hospital with Covid at the trust which runs the Royal Preston and Chorley and South Ribble Hospital has also halved in little more than a month - standing at 61 in the latest-available figures.

However, Cllr Brown says that the progress made is being needlessly put at risk by premature rule changes.

“Covid has not gone away and I think things like removing the self-isolation requirement and the discontinuation of free tests are very shortsighted - especially with the amount of money we have put into it in the last two years.

“Just under 50 percent of people in Preston have been boosted, so why are we doing this now?

“My own conclusion is that it is a political reason - but if you lose a life, it's pretty devastating for everyone concerned and that's still the reality of the virus at the moment. Nationally, [last week] we were still losing around 150 people a day.

“Nobody is saying at this stage that we should lock things down - just that if you do get Covid, stay at home, don’t pass it on and make sure that people have access to testing. I don’t understand what the problem is with that - to end it all now, just seems stupid.

When we get to the stage where we have the booster levels up to 90 percent plus - and that takes time - we will have more of the population covered from the dangerous effects of the virus. Until then, I think we need these rules in place - and they're not hugely onerous,” said Cllr Brown.

The Labour leader has repeatedly rued what he says has been the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on low-income groups - and he warns that they will be similarly disadvantaged by the more relaxed Covid regime, even though most people are “sensible” enough to carry on being cautious if they can afford to do so.

“The culture in a lot of workplaces means there is pressure for people to go in when they're not well, so [anyone infected] will come in and give the virus to everybody else - so you will have an even bigger problem.

“I would appeal to Preston residents [who catch Covid] to stay at home for a week and continue testing - but the challenge [comes when] they remove the free testing as well,” Cllr Brown added.

The £500 self-isolation payment for those on low incomes will also end later this week, but access to statutory sick pay from day one of illness will continue until 24th March.

Meanwhile, the recommendation for secondary school pupils without symptoms to test themselves twice-weekly has also been ditched.

Ian Watkinson, Lancashire’s representative on the executive of the National Education Union, denounced that decision as one in which the PM “once again finds himself overwhelmingly at odds with recommendations from science and health experts who say that now is absolutely not the right time to remove the very measures that help curb the spread of the virus and protect the most vulnerable”.

He added: “Throughout the pandemic, schools have been the central driver spreading the virus into communities. Without - still - vaccine protection for 5-11 year olds, masks, proper- funded ventilation measures and now no expectation to test or isolate, it’s inevitable that even more children, teachers and school workers will become ill, pass the virus on to others and ultimately place an even greater burden on the NHS.

“It’s a reckless approach that will sadly guarantee an ongoing disruption to education and I sincerely hope that in Lancashire, we can continue to do better.”

Concerns have also been expressed in some quarters about the potential impact of the changes on the clinically extremely vulnerable who may get less protection from vaccines and so be at greater risk if the rest of society returns to a pre-pandemic way of life.

Jeanette Smalley, general manager of Preston-based charity Cancer Help, said that it would be to mischaracterise the vulnerable to say that they were too frightened to go out. She said that they wanted some semblance of normality as much as anybody else - but without feeling that they were taking a huge risk with their health.

“There will be a few more worries now [that the rules have changed], because it will no longer be a case of them just controlling what they do themselves - [they will have to consider] what somebody else might be doing, so that it makes it more difficult for them.

“But other than staying in all the time and not letting anybody into their homes, they can't live without taking some element of risk,” Jeanette said.

She says that a keenness amongst cancer patients to return to the face-to face support that her charity offers reflects a desire for human contact - and she believes that vulnerable people will react differently to the removal of the remaining Covid rules depending on their own individual circumstances.

“It’s about making the decisions that are right for you and weighing up your own level of risk.

“It’s human nature, though, that if people are on their own and very isolated, there will come a point where they feel like they can't live like that any longer.”

Boris Johnson told a press conference on Monday evening that people should treat the vulnerable with “the utmost consideration” in trying to protect them from any infectious disease.

Earlier in the day, in a statement to MPs, he said: “Covid will not suddenly disappear, so those who would wait for a total end to this war before lifting the remaining regulations would be restricting the liberties of the British people for a long time to come. This government [does] not believe that that is right or necessary.

“Restrictions take a heavy toll on our economy, our society, our mental wellbeing and the life chances of our children, and we do not need to pay that cost any longer. We have a population that is protected by the biggest vaccination programme in our history; we have the antivirals, the treatments and the scientific understanding of this virus; and we have the capabilities to respond rapidly to any resurgence or new variant.

“It is time that we got our confidence back. We do not need laws to compel people to be considerate to others. We can rely on our sense of responsibility towards one another, providing practical advice in the knowledge that people will follow it to avoid infecting loved ones and others.

“So let us learn to live with this virus and continue protecting ourselves without restricting our freedoms.”

LANCASHIRE BOOSTER RATES

Fylde - 71.3%

Wyre - 68.9%

Ribble Valley - 68.9%

South Ribble - 65.6%

Chorley - 65.5%

West Lancashire - 63.8%

Lancaster - 61.2%

Rossendale - 58.5%

Blackpool - 57.4%

Burnley - 50.4%

Hyndburn - 49.6%

Preston - 49.4%

Pendle - 48.5%

Blackburn with Darwen - 44.8%

Percentage of over-12s population who have received a booster or third dose (currently, only immunocompromised or severely immunocompromised 12-15-year-olds are eligible for a booster)

LANCASHIRE COVID HOSPITALISATIONS

No. of patients in hospital with Covid:

Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

61 - latest figure available (15th Feb, 2022)

124 - Omicron wave peak (4th Jan, 2021)

193 - whole-pandemic peak (15th Dec, 2020)

Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

31 - latest figure available (15th Feb, 2022)

145 - Omicron wave peak (21st Jan, 2021)

205 - whole-pandemic peak (20th Oct, 2020)

East Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Trust

59 - latest figure available (15th Feb, 2022)

185 - Omicron wave peak (14th Jan, 2021)

311 - whole-pandemic peak (11th Jan, 2021)

University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust

113 - latest figure available (15th Feb, 2022)

164 - Omicron wave peak (15th Jan, 2021)

226 - whole-pandemic peak (27th Jan, 2021)

LANCASHIRE DAILY COVID CASES

Blackburn with Darwen:

Current - 23 (19th Feb, 2022)

Omicron wave peak - 839 (3rd Jan, 2022)

Blackpool:

Current - 33 (19th Feb, 2022)

Omicron wave peak - 898 (4th Jan, 2022)

Burnley:

Current - 18 (19th Feb, 2022)

Omicron wave peak - 663 (4th Jan, 2022)

Chorley:

Current - 22 (19th Feb, 2022)

Omicron wave peak - 649 (29th Dec, 2021)

Fylde:

Current - 19 (19th Feb, 2022)

Omicron wave peak - 442 (4th Jan, 2022)

Hyndburn:

Current - 15 (19th Feb, 2022)

Omicron wave peak - 537 (4th Jan, 2022)

Lancaster:

Current - 54 (19th Feb, 2022)

Omicron wave peak - 698 (4th Jan, 2022)

Pendle:

Current - 18 (19th Feb, 2022)

Omicron wave peak - 578 (4th Jan, 2022)

Preston:

Current - 24 (19th Feb, 2022)

Omicron wave peak - 809 (4th Jan, 2022)

Ribble Valley:

Current - 6 (19th Feb, 2022)

Omicron wave peak - 311 (4th Jan, 2022)

Rossendale:

Current - 21 (19th Feb, 2022)

Omicron wave peak - 398 (4th Jan, 2022)

South Ribble:

Current - 17 (19th Feb, 2022)

Omicron wave peak - 635 (4th Jan, 2022)

West Lancashire:

Current - 34 (19th Feb, 2022)

Omicron wave peak - 625 (29th Dec, 2021)

Wyre:

Current - 35 (19th Feb, 2022)

Omicron wave peak - 630 (4th Jan, 2022)

LANCASHIRE COVID DEATHS

5,093 - total deaths since March 2020 where Covid is mentioned as a cause on the death certificate, of which:

556 were in Blackpool

549 were in Blackburn with Darwen

449 were in Wyre

419 were in Lancaster

417 were in Preston

369 were in Burnley

357 were in West Lancashire

318 were in Fylde

316 were in Pendle

314 were in Chorley

312 were in South Ribble

310 were in Hyndburn

217 were in Rossendale

190 were in Ribble Valley

LANCASHIRE COVID DEATHS THEN v. NOW

Blackburn with Darwen - 7 in w/e 4th Feb, 2022; 33 at peak w/e 8th Jan, 2021

Blackpool - 5 in w/e 4th Feb, 2022; 31 at peak w/e 22nd Jan, 2021

Burnley - 2 in w/e 4th Feb, 2022; 28 at peak w/e 22nd Jan, 2021

Chorley - 3 in w/e 4th Feb, 2022; 20 at peak w/e 17th Apr, 2020

Fylde - 2 in w/e 4th Feb, 2022; 20 at peak w/e 12th Feb, 2021

Hyndburn - 6 in w/e 4th Feb, 2022; 19 at peak w/e 29th Jan, 2021

Lancaster - 1 in w/e 4th Feb, 2022; 28 at peak w/e 5th Feb, 2021

Pendle - 3 in w/e 4th Feb, 2022; 20 at peak w/e 20th Nov, 2020

Preston - 2 in w/e 4th Feb, 2022; 18 at peak w/e 25th Dec, 2020

Ribble Valley -1 in w/e 4th Feb, 2022; 17 at peak w/e 8th Jan, 2021

Rossendale - 2 in w/e 4th Feb, 2022; 11 at peak w/e 22nd Jan, 2021

South Ribble - 3 in w/e 4th Feb, 2022; 16 at peak w/e 11th Dec, 2020

West Lancashire - 5 in w/e 4th Feb, 2022; 30 at peak w/e 24th Apr, 2020

Wyre - 5 in w/e 4th Feb, 2022; 23 at peak w/e 8th Jan 2021

Note - death county based on instances where Covid is mentioned as a cause on the death certificate

Sources: gov.uk

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