MIDDLESBROUGH COUNCIL: South Tees Covid update
Councillor Bob Cook, leader of Stockton Council. Credit: Stockton Council. Stockton Council image
South Tees’ public health chief has called for people to take a Covid test before attending Christmas parties and nativity plays.
The plea comes after the government reintroduced face masks in shops and on public transport in England as concern rises over Omicron, the new Covid variant.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid has said that people should “maybe” take a test before socialising during the festive season and said that he would take one before a big party.
Speaking to the BBC about Christmas parties and nativity plays, South Tees’ public health chief Mark Adams said: “The lateral flow tests are widely available, they are very good at spotting when you’re infectious.
“So if we can prevent infectious people getting into those places then those places are more safe.
“If you go to a nativity or a Christmas party, test before you get there and test afterwards as well. In doing that, if you have got infected you should catch it earlier and prevent infecting other people.”
He also advised people that they should wear masks and keep their distance in crowded spaces where they can.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also announced that Covid booster jabs would be offered to everyone eligible by the end of January.
However, when asked whether there will be enough available appointments to meet that deadline, Mr Adams couldn’t confirm.
He added: “I think that’s a little unclear at the moment as the plans aren’t in place yet as to what this significant next effort is going to be.
“At the moment, for the booster, in Middlesbrough and Redcar and Cleveland, more than 70,000 people have already had the booster, mainly through community pharmacies and the GP sites.
“I think there will need to be a significant increase in available capacity for the booster in order to hit those targets by the end of January and also a bit more clarity in the process by which people will be called to get those boosters because the over 18s, three months past the second jab, will be eligible to be called, but I think some of those processes are a little unclear.”
However, the public health boss also raised concerns about the number of over 50s not vaccinated at all in the area.
Mr Adams said: “In Middlesbrough, and Redcar and Cleveland, there are more than 7,000 people over 50 that haven’t been vaccinated.
“What we do know about Omicron is that it appears to be much more infectious and if it’s much more infectious and you’re not vaccinated there’s a higher chance it will find you.
“So it’s really really important that if you haven’t been vaccinated, please get vaccinated.”
Except for those who are exempt, masks must now be worn on public transport and in shops, supermarkets, taxis, hairdressers, tattoo studios, salons, post offices, banks, estate agents, vet surgeries, takeaways, and during driving lessons and tests.
There is also mandatory 10-day isolation for close contacts of suspected Omicron cases.
The government has strongly advised that secondary school pupils wear masks in communal areas and staff and visitors at all schools and childcare settings are encouraged to wear a face covering.
While the new rules do not apply to cinemas, Mr Adams suggested it would make sense to wear one if you were going to watch a film.
In the last seven days, there have been 417 Covid cases in Middlesbrough and the rate is 295.8 per 100,000 people.
As of November 28, Stockton had 720 Covid cases in the last seven days with a rate of 364.8.
Councillor Bob Cook, leader of Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council, said: “We’ve been saying for some time that we need to be cautious as we learn to live with the virus and I’d urge everyone to follow the national rules.
“The most important tool we have against the virus is still the vaccine, which is why we support the NHS-led work to encourage take-up of first and second jabs and also boosters.
“As well as the new requirements around face coverings, we can also take simple steps such as washing our hands regularly, keeping indoor spaces ventilated, getting tested, and self-isolating where required.
“We’ve all worked together to stop the spread before, and we’re going to need to show that same willingness to protect each other now to minimise the potential impact of this new variant.
“If we all do our bit we can protect each other, particularly those most vulnerable.”
Words: Emily Craigie, Local Democracy Reporter
Watch the channel on TV