RBWM health lead: use 'sensible judgement' when COVID rules ease

Royal Borough COVID-19 contact tracing system to be launched

The Royal Borough’s health lead has said it is important for people to use ‘sensible judgement’ as the country prepares to take a huge step out of lockdown next week.

From Monday, COVID rules are due to relax to the point where almost all restrictions on social contact will end, marking a significant milestone in the pandemic.

When announcing the decision, Prime Minister Boris Johnson reminded people that the pandemic ‘is not over’, with cases rising rapidly across the country and the Royal Borough.

And Councillor Stuart Carroll, lead member for health at the Windsor and Maidenhead Council, urged residents to remain cautious as England returns to a new normal.

Speaking to the Advertiser and Express, he also gave advice to those unsure on the rules surrounding facemasks, with the Government criticised over the clarity of guidance surrounding the use of them beyond July 19.

PM Johnson said that the Government ‘expects and recommends’ people to wear face coverings in crowded and enclosed spaces, with the legal requirement to wear one in shops and public transport ending.

“The default position for anyone who is unsure is to wear a mask where you have previously wore a mask,” Cllr Carroll said.

“But in the end it is for people to exercise their judgement and to accept that responsibility.”

The health lead added that sporting and music venues and public transport were some of the situations where he would advise people to carry on wearing face coverings.

On the lockdown easing date – dubbed ‘freedom day’ – definitely going ahead from Monday, Cllr Carroll said people should ‘proceed with caution’.

He added that an advantage of easing restrictions is that the loss of mandatory laws and guidance will help free up police rescources.

“More broadly, easing the restrictions is reasonable. Although it is critical to look at this pandemic through the prism of COVID, we must also look at it from a broader health perspective in terms of people’s mental health and general wellbeing,” he said.

“Just because something isn’t mandatory, it does not mean that people should not be doing the right thing and exercising sensible judgement.”

He added that the situation is helped by the vaccination programme ‘providing a wall of population immunity’ and ‘containing onward transmission’.

“That does not mean that the vaccines are bulletproof, and it is important to see what treatments can be pulled through to help treat COVID,” Cllr Carroll said.

But the health lead, whose professional background is in infectious diseases and epidemiology, said that ‘you can’t leave anything off the table’ regarding future restrictions later in the year, when the NHS is likely to endure a ‘difficult winter’.

“We have got to make sure our healthcare system does not collapse and that is another reason for people to take this seriously,” Cllr Carroll added.

“We are going to be enjoying the rights and the freedoms, but there is a responsibility to do that safely.”

At a Royal Borough Health and Wellbeing Board on Tuesday it was announced that COVID-19 cases are increasing in the borough, with the Delta variant of the virus, first identified in India, dominant.

Anna Richards, a consultant at Public Health in the council, also told the meeting that young men aged between 18-25 were not coming forward to get their first dose of a vaccine.

On the lack of an uptake in young men, Cllr Carroll told the Advertiser and Express: “Of course it is a concern. They are potentially rendering themselves vulnerable and exposed to a vicious virus.

“We have seen people who are fit and healthy dying from the disease and getting quite ill, and suffering from long COVID. This is not a virus to play games with.”

He added at the meeting that ‘we need to keep pushing recruitment of champions and advocates, humans who can answer questions’, in order to reach these people.

Cllr Carroll said he was unsure as to the reasons why the vaccine uptake in young men was lower, but said that there could be an incorrect ‘misconception’ among young people that the virus does not affect them.

He urged this group to get their information from ‘robust sources’ and called on social media companies to do more to cut out anti-vaccination messages and propaganda.

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