We all deserve a great festive holiday this year – but we have to remember, Covid-19 doesn’t take a holiday
By Katie Spence, Regional Deputy Director for the UK Health Security Agency, West Midlands
With the festive season in full swing, fairy lights festooning the high street, and just over a week to go before Christmas, understandably people are packing into the shops and wanting to have fun with friends and family. While we all deserve a great festive holiday this year, we have to remember that Covid-19 doesn’t take a holiday. So, we all need to do whatever we can to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our NHS, while enjoying the festive break we all deserve.
Over the last three weeks, the Omicron variant has emerged, and there is now confirmed community transmission. Early evidence indicates Omicron is more transmissible than previous strains, with cases doubling around every two days, compared to seven days for the Delta variant. We expect to see at least 50 per cent of Covid-19 cases caused by Omicron in the next two to four weeks, which means we could see up to one million infections by the end of the month. In the West Midlands region, we have already seen around 150 cases of Omicron.
The situation is moving rapidly, and more time is needed to understand the severity of this variant, but we do know hospitalisation rates in South Africa are going up. Even if Omicron proves to be less severe, its rapid spread mean we are likely to see increased hospitalisations – so there is a real chance the NHS could come under a great deal of pressure, which we all want to avoid over the winter months.
That is why we need to keep washing and sanitising our hands; wearing face coverings when we’re out shopping, socialising, in places of worship and public transport; working from home where possible; and ventilating our homes regularly.
Testing is also a vital part of reducing the spread of this virus. So if you are going to be mixing with lots of people outside your household – to a party, for a drink or meal, to the theatre, cinema or a music event – you should take a Lateral Flow Test (LFT) before you go out.
Since Wednesday (December 15), you either need a NHS Covid Pass or evidence of a negative LFT for entry into large venues with 500+ people. Any university students going home for the holidays, please take a rapid test before you travel. LFT tests are available at pharmacies, who receive regular supplies of testing kits.
If you have any symptoms, you need to get a PCR test as quickly as possible and remain isolating until you either get a negative result confirmed, or until 10 days have passed from symptoms starting.
We want people to enjoy themselves as much as possible, while staying safe – that’s why contacts of a confirmed case of Covid-19 who have had two doses of the vaccine or are under 18 should now take a daily Lateral Flow Test for seven days. Anyone who has not received their first two doses of the vaccine must still isolate for 10 days.
More time is needed to understand the severity of this variant, but vaccines remain our best line of defence. Our vaccination programme continues to move at a rapid pace – having now delivered over 24 million boosters or third doses across the UK and around 2.13 million in the West Midlands region.
We’ve already delivered more boosters than anywhere else in Europe, but in light of the Omicron variant, our NHS colleagues are working even harder to give people the maximum protection. Following the Prime Minister’s announcement on Sunday evening, all adults and those in high risk groups will now be able to get a booster – the aim is to offer a booster to everyone eligible by the end of December, while young people aged 12 to 17 should receive a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. We also want to encourage all eligible people to get their flu vaccine, so that they are protected for all this winter may bring.
We’ve all been handwashing, testing and wearing face coverings for a long time now, but these comparatively small things, along with getting vaccinated, mean that life can go on during the pandemic. So, let’s all do everything we can to have a happy and healthy festive season.