In February 2021, the Government published a roadmap out of lockdown. This set out a four-stage process for lifting coronavirus restrictions and returning to a more normal way of life.
On July 19, the Government moved to stage four of the roadmap and most restrictions have now been lifted. However, the pandemic is far from over, and it is crucial that we move forward with caution to protect ourselves, each other and especially the most vulnerable in our society.
Restrictions have lifted but we are still in a pandemic
Our lives have changed in many ways during the pandemic and we have sustained a very difficult way of living for a long time. Many people are keen to do things that have not been possible in the past year – seeing friends and loved ones and enjoying favourite sports and activities with other people that haven’t been possible since restrictions started.
However, as we start to do all these things, it is important we remember that the virus is circulating. Unfortunately, it remains a real possibility that you could catch COVID-19 and become severely unwell and that you could pass it on to others, in some cases unknowingly as not everyone shows symptoms.
Of course, the big difference between previous COVID-19 waves and now is that we have rolled out the vaccine widely, which is estimated to have prevented around 11.8 million infections and almost 37,000 deaths in England alone. Whilst the vaccine has weakened the link between infection and hospital admissions and deaths, a rise in cases will mean hospitalisations and deaths increase, putting pressure on the NHS that is very busy dealing with the needs of people waiting for other essential treatments and requiring emergency care.
While COVID-19 vaccines are very effective, no vaccine is 100% effective and some people, especially older adults or those with weakened immune systems may be less protected. We all have a duty to do what we can to protect each other.
What can we do to stay safe and protect others?
There is still a lot we can do help keep coronavirus case numbers as low as possible. While the legal requirement for social distancing and wearing face-coverings has lifted in most settings, it will still be very beneficial to continue to use these interventions in indoor, crowded spaces especially with people who you do not know.
In some settings where people are especially vulnerable, these protective measures will remain in place. For example, NHS and social care visitor guidance will stay in place in healthcare settings such as care homes, hospitals, GP practices and other places where health and care is delivered to ensure patients and staff are protected.
In our everyday lives, there are steps we can take to help protect ourselves, other people and particularly the most vulnerable in our communities:
- If you have any of the symptoms of COVID-19, self-isolate at home and request a test as soon as possible. Staying at home and avoiding contact with other people when you have symptoms of COVID-19 is one of the most important things you can do to avoid passing the virus on to other people. You should also isolate if you are told to do so by NHS Test and Trace. Don’t forget to plan ahead in case you need to self-isolate and read about the guidance and support that can help you to do so.
- Get two doses of a coronavirus vaccine. All adults in England have now been offered at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Two doses offer the most protection and can help reduce the chances of you passing the virus on to other people, so make sure you have your second dose as soon as it is offered. If you haven’t yet had a vaccine you can book an appointment on the NHS website at a location near to you, and there may also be drop-in vaccination centres advertised in your local area.
- Continue to use LFD tests regularly. LFD tests can help determine whether you are carrying the virus without any symptoms and the tests are currently available for free to everyone and can be ordered online or collected from many local pharmacies. It is estimated that around 1 in 3 people with COVID-19 do not have symptoms but can still pass the infection on to other people. Many people are regularly testing to help protect themselves and their communities, and it is particularly important if you spend time with people who are more vulnerable to severe illness, and who may not have been able to have a COVID vaccine.
- Continue to wear a face-covering in busy, indoor spaces, shops and on public transport. COVID-19 spreads through the air by droplets and aerosols that are exhaled from the nose and mouth of an infected person when they breathe, speak, cough or sneeze. Continuing to wear a face-covering in higher risk settings can help protect you and others.
- Take particular care when visiting health and social care settings and wear a face covering when doing so. When you visit healthcare settings such as your GP surgery or a hospital, you are likely to encounter people who are more vulnerable to severe illness if they catch COVID-19. Wearing a face covering, using available hand washing stations or sanitisers, and keeping your distance from others can all help to protect you and other people.
- Use the summer to meet outdoors as much as possible. The warm weather provides us with the opportunity to meet our friends and loved ones outside, and we know we are much safer and at less risk of contracting the virus while outside in the open air.
- When you do meet indoors, keep fresh air moving by opening windows and doors. We know that COVID-19 spreads through the air and so the more fresh air you let into your home and other enclosed indoor spaces, the less likely it is that you will catch or pass on the virus.
- Keep washing your hands or use hand gel and sanitisers when you are out and about. Hands touch surfaces and you can transfer viruses to your eyes, nose or mouth. From there, viruses can enter your body and infect you. Keeping your hands clean is particularly important before and after you use public transport, when you have been at an indoor venue and when you are with those who are more vulnerable to severe illness if they become infected with COVID-19. Good hand and respiratory hygiene (washing your hands, covering coughs and sneezes and disposing of used tissues in the bin) help to stop the spread of other illnesses such as colds, flu and sickness bugs too.
What to expect throughout summer
There is much to be optimistic about as we return to many of the activities that have not been possible until now. The extraordinary efforts that we have all made to arrive at this point in the roadmap are a reason to be proud, and the continuing success of the vaccination programme shows what we can achieve when we work together towards the common goal of keeping our communities safe.
Now that most restrictions have lifted and people mix together at a higher level than since the start of the pandemic, more people will catch and pass on the virus, and so it is right that we think carefully about how we can continue to reduce these risks and protect those around us. Continuing to take the steps described in the coronavirus guidance and in this blog will help to protect you, our friends and loved ones, our colleagues, communities and especially those who remain vulnerable to the virus.
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Contributor: Richard Amlôt