The legal requirement to wear face coverings in certain settings will, as of then, be replaced with a government ‘expectation and recommendation’ to do so in crowded public spaces.
However, Dr. Mohammed Munavvar says that there will be no such choice for anybody attending Central Lancashire’s hospitals - because vulnerable patients cannot afford for infection prevention precautions to become optional.
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The consultant respiratory physician was speaking after Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (LTH) announced that all outpatients, staff and the very few visitors currently permitted on site will still be required to wear masks and keep a two-metre distance. It follows a stipulation that Public Health England infection control measures will remain in force across all NHS services throughout the country, including GP practices.
“We’ll be continuing with every possible precaution to protect our patients and staff - we cannot lower our guard as yet. It would be very risky, as we are entering a crucial phase of the pandemic," Dr. Munavvar said.
“In the UK, we have done very well with vaccinations. Nevertheless, we are seeing an increase in infections and will continue to do so - and that will translate into an increase in hospital admissions.
“Of course, hospitals are enclosed spaces - and just like any other enclosed space, hospitals are potentially sources of infection.
“We are not just looking after Covid patients in the hospital - most of the patients are non-Covid and most have a problem where their immunity could potentially be suppressed. We have a duty to protect them and also our staff, because we don't want them to fall ill and deplete the squad,” added Dr. Munavvar, who also extended his thanks to patients for their co-operation during the pandemic to date.
Following the recent surge in Covid cases across the county, most adult inpatient visiting remains suspended at LTH and all patient-facing staff are taking lateral flow tests before the start of every shift.
Outpatients who arrive without a mask will be provided with one at reception, while anybody exempt for medical reasons will be given a lanyard to wear so that they are not challenged by staff.
Asked whether he thought face covering and social distancing precautions should continue outside the hospital setting, Dr. Munavvar replied: “Absolutely.”
“I will certainly be continuing to wear a mask in all indoor environments - whether that’s shops or public transport. I think all our staff will continue to do so, because we see in the real world inside the hospital what happens and how patients can get very seriously ill - we know the gravity of the situation.
“The contributions we can make to society are to ensure we are double vaccinated and continue to exercise caution, because that is going to make a massive difference to what happens in the next few weeks and months. We have all got to do our bit, we can’t just leave it to a certain group - it has to be a massive team effort.
“I totally understand people are fed up, but...if we work together, this whole phase [of the pandemic] will be shorter. Otherwise it will drag on for a much longer time - that’s the truth of the situation.”
Lancashire County Council’s director of public health told the Post earlier this month that he would be recommending the continuation of mask-wearing in all the places where, prior to today, it had been legally required - until at least 90 percent of the population had been double vaccinated.
Dr. Sakthi Karunanithi has now reinforced his message of caution as the county prepares to embark on the fourth and final step on the government’s roadmap out of lockdown.
"It is important that people use their personal judgement and take sensible steps to protect themselves and others if they think it is necessary.
"It is also important that we maintain the momentum with our excellent vaccination programme. If you have not had your jabs yet or want to know where you can get one, please visit the Healthier Lancashire and South Cumbria's website.
"While getting both of your jabs will significantly reduce your chances of getting seriously ill, it will not necessarily stop you from catching Covid-19. This is why regular testing using lateral flow devices – which are still free until at least the end of August – remains a crucial tool in controlling the spread of the virus.
"It is also so important that we must continue to look out for and support those who need it, as we have done throughout this immensely difficult period," Dr. Karunanithi added.
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