On Monday (21 February) we saw the publication of the national Living with COVID strategy which sets out a series of changes so that we can learn to live safely with the virus.
COVID has not gone away and will continue to evolve – as it has done before – so we must be prepared for new variants to emerge over time, which could mean a fast reintroduction of the interventions we’ve had during the pandemic.
However, we have made very good progress in our responses to COVID. We have better options to protect against and treat people with COVID, which have allowed us to start taking steps to manage things differently. This is being echoed in many other countries who are now starting to lift restrictions.
The virus is still disruptive and we must continue to take it seriously with a rather cautious series of steps towards normality.
The first step is that the legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive ended yesterday (24 February) and contacts of cases will no longer be followed up. The Test and Trace Support Payment Scheme will also end. If you were told to self-isolate before 24 February, you can still make a claim up to 6 April.
We know that COVID can cause harm such as Long COVID, this and the fact our rates remain high in Solihull means that local public health advice is as follows:
- if you have COVID stay at home and take steps to avoid passing it onto others, particularly if they are more vulnerable to COVID
- The basic steps of ventilation, handwashing and keeping your distance will all help to keep us safe
The second big step is that testing will be scaled back over the next few months and free testing for most people will stop on 1 April. Free COVID tests will continue for some vulnerable groups and further information on this is expected in due course.
Over the next few weeks, you will see changes made to the community testing hubs in Solihull – further details about these changes will be made available on the Council website.
Until then (31 March) our hubs and our community mobile testing unit will continue to provide free testing and test kits for the general public. Our public health advice hasn’t changed in that testing before coming into an environment where you are mixing with others you do not regularly see is still the best way to protect yourself and others.
Likewise, if you have COVID symptoms (high temperature, new continuous cough, loss and/ or change in sense of smell and/ or taste) or if you generally feel unwell then stay at home and book a PCR via the online national booking system or by phoning 119.
If you do test positive (from either a PCR or LFD test) you should stay at home for at least five days and minimise social interaction with anyone you live with. You should then stop self-isolating if you have two consecutive negative tests on day 5 and 6, however you should avoid meeting people at higher risk of becoming seriously unwell from COVID-19 for a full 10 days.
The third step is to further protect people who may be particularly vulnerable to COVID through a Spring booster programme. This is for people aged 75 and over, people in care homes and for older adults and anyone aged over 12 who is immunocompromised, to receive a booster jab six months after their last dose.
The vaccination programme has enabled people to protect themselves and other people from COVID and has led to this change in direction so that we can begin to live with the virus.
Currently in Solihull 83% of people aged 16 and above have now had two doses of vaccination and 85% of people who are eligible for a booster have now also had one.
If you haven’t had your first, second or booster dose there’s never been a better time to get jabbed. You don’t want to regret getting ill. If you’ve had COVID this doesn’t mean you won’t get it again, so do make sure you have had all your doses for maximum protection.
This is particularly important if you are pregnant. A new study has emerged which has found that vaccination in pregnancy, which protects both the mother and unborn baby, also protects the baby after they are born. Further information for pregnant women and their families can be found here: https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/guidelines-research-services/guidelines/coronavirus-pregnancy/covid-19-virus-infection-and-pregnancy/.
Let’s maintain safer behaviours to protect ourselves and others so that we can live with COVID in Solihull:
· Opt to wear a face covering in most indoor public places and on public transport
· Let fresh air in if you meet indoors – but meeting outdoors is safer
· Get tested if you have COVID symptoms
· Stay at home and limit social interaction if you feel unwell