Full statement by Cheshire and Merseyside’s Directors of Public Health on the emergence of the Omicron variant.
We want to start by saying that we are extremely thankful to everyone across Cheshire and Merseyside for their efforts so far. We are now 20 months into this pandemic and every day we are blown away by the resilience, kindness, and commitment we see from our local communities.
With each hour, we are learning more about the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 that has been described as a Variant of Concern (VOC) by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA). Early indications suggest that it is highly transmissible, and we may see an increase in cases, as well as an increase in hospitalisations. However, we must wait until we learn more over the coming weeks before we can be sure of the impact this will have. There is no evidence yet that it causes more serious disease.
We can absolutely understand that, especially in the run up to the festive season, this is incredibly unwelcome and frustrating news. We can understand those who want to see fewer restrictions and reminders of this pandemic, not more, and as Directors of Public Health, we are desperate to see a return to normal. However, it is our duty to respond to situations as they arise and provide you with the advice that will help keep you, your community, and your loved ones safe, as well as protect our local NHS.
There are many reasons to remain positive and hopeful; as time as gone on, we know more and more about this virus and have had time to prepare for situations like this, we also have the hugely successful COVID-19 vaccination programme, without which we would most likely be looking at much stronger restrictions and perhaps even a lockdown.
To avoid a situation where our infection rate gets out of control, causes harm to those who are vulnerable and overwhelms our local hospitals, your actions and behaviours will be vital. We must work together and continue to do what we’ve already been doing for quite a while.
We are reminding those living and working in Cheshire and Merseyside to:
- Join the 46 million people in the UK who are fully vaccinated – if you haven’t had the time, you now need to make time. It’s been shown to be both safe and effective and it is the best way to keep yourself from getting seriously ill
- Get a booster shot if you are over 18 and it’s been three months since your second jab – the effectiveness of any vaccine slightly drops over time, so it’s very important to get a ‘top-up’ to ensure you are as safe as possible
- Continue to wear face coverings – from Tuesday 30th November, it is a legal requirement to wear face coverings in shops and on public transport, but please consider wearing one in other crowded spaces with lots of people. A global study found that wearing face coverings was linked to a drop 53% drop in cases, so we know they work.
- Continue to practice good hand hygiene, in particular hand washing
- Make an effort to ventilate spaces – ensuring a constant flow of fresh air can make a big difference, you can open windows, doors and vents. We know it’s cold outside, but even opening for 10 minutes to let some fresh air can really help.
- Keep getting tested:
- If you develop COVID-19 symptoms (new continuous cough, high temperature, loss or change in taste or smell), self-isolate immediately and get a PCR test. You should self-isolate at home while you get a PCR test and wait for the results. You must self-isolate if you test positive. You must self-isolate from the day your symptoms started and the next 10 full days, or from the day your test was taken if you do not have symptoms and the next 10 full days. This is the law, regardless of whether you have been vaccinated.
- Take tests if you do not have symptoms to help manage your risk. Around 1 in 3 people with COVID-19 do not have any symptoms. This means they could be spreading the virus without knowing it. Testing regularly increases the chances of detecting COVID-19 when you are infectious but are not displaying symptoms, helping to make sure you do not spread COVID-19 by staying at home and self-isolating immediately. Rapid lateral flow testing continues to be available free of charge. You can get tests from pharmacies or online.
- Self-isolate if you are told to do so by NHS Test and Trace or local authority public health teams and minimise your contact with others if you know you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive. If you are self-isolating, there is support available to you during this period from national and local government.
- Get tested before meeting up with others and don’t go if your test is positive
We are also urging businesses and workplaces in Cheshire and Merseyside to support your workforce resilience by supporting staff to have regular testing and give time to allow them to take up their vaccination offer.
Thank you for your continued support and helping us keep local communities safe. Your efforts are recognised, and we are confident that together, we will see each other through what unfortunately is shaping up to be a difficult winter.
Dr Matt Tyrer
Director of Public Health for Cheshire East
Director of Public Health Cheshire West and Chester
Dr Ifeoma Onyia
Director of Public Health for Halton
Dr Sarah McNulty
Director of Public Health for Knowsley
Professor Matt Ashton
Director of Public Health for Liverpool
Director of Public Health for Sefton
Ruth Du Plessis
Director of Public Health for St Helens
Director of Public Health for Warrington
Director of Public Health for Wirral