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Hertfordshire's director of public health recommends masks as Plan A returns



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Hertfordshire's director of public health is continuing to urge caution after the Government further eased coronavirus restrictions on Thursday (Jan 27).

England has reverted to Plan A, which means face coverings and Covid passes are no longer legally required, but Professor Jim McManus said that masks were still recommended as a means of curbing infections.

He said the county council was backing their use among its own workforce and at Hertfordshire's schools if necessary.

Hertfordshire's director of public health Professor Jim McManus
Hertfordshire's director of public health Professor Jim McManus

"We're working closely with schools and businesses to help them understand and implement the changes announced by the Government recently," said Prof McManus. "While the Department for Education has removed the requirement for pupils to wear face coverings in classrooms, Government guidance is very clear that schools will continue to have discretion to reintroduce face coverings and other measures when there are outbreaks.

"In our offices, we're encouraging staff to return to a mixture of remote and office-based working, depending on the service they're delivering and the needs of their role. For those who'll be using our offices going forward, we're still encouraging certain precautions such as face coverings in communal areas."

Patients in Hertfordshire and west Essex are still required to wear face coverings in doctors' surgeries, hospitals and other healthcare settings.

Dr Rachel Joyce, director of clinical and professional services for Hertfordshire and West Essex Integrated Care System
Dr Rachel Joyce, director of clinical and professional services for Hertfordshire and West Essex Integrated Care System

Dr Rachel Joyce, director of clinical and professional services for the Hertfordshire and West Essex Integrated Care System, said: "The virus has not gone away and case numbers are still high due to the spread of the Omicron variant. Wearing a face covering is an effective way of preventing the spread of infection, particularly in busy or crowded indoor spaces."

Prof McManus endorsed that view. "We're still seeing high numbers of cases and people needing hospital treatment in Hertfordshire. In Plan A, wearing face coverings is no longer mandated but is very clearly recommended in crowded environments and public transport. Alongside ensuring good ventilation, face coverings are still recommended.

"Evidence shows they do help reduce transmission, and many businesses and transport operators continue to ask customers to wear them."

Greater Anglia, which operates trains between London and Cambridge through Bishop's Stortford, advises passengers: "We'd like you to carry on wearing a face covering if you can when you're on our trains and stations, please. Public health advice is still to wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed places, such as trains and stations. So please keep wearing your face covering out of respect for other passengers."

Greater Anglia says: "Public health advice is still to wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed places, such as trains and stations."
Greater Anglia says: "Public health advice is still to wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed places, such as trains and stations."

That message was echoed by bus company Arriva, which is responsible for services in the Indie patch: "We encourage you to wear a face covering in busy spaces."

Retail trade union Usdaw has urged shops to maintain Covid safety measures. General secretary Paddy Lillis said: "It beggars belief that the Government chose to dismiss the concerns of our members and many workers who are desperately worried about restrictions being lifted while case numbers remain high. We understand that the Government has to scale back Plan B, but surely this should be done in a more measured and gradual manner."

Prof McManus said: "National behaviour surveys done for government show consistently that the majority of people have changed their behaviour since Omicron arrived and most will continue with some kinds of measures.

Patients must continue to wear masks in healthcare settings
Patients must continue to wear masks in healthcare settings

"We still need to apply a combination of measures – ventilation, vaccination, face coverings and self-isolation, if you have symptoms, to keep reducing the spread of Covid.

"We're urging people who haven't been vaccinated or had their booster jabs to do so as soon as possible – it remains the best way to protect themselves and others from getting seriously ill. NHS data shows that unvaccinated people who get Covid-19 are about eight times more likely to be hospitalised than those who are fully vaccinated. Two key reasons we have got through this latest surge of cases have been the high numbers of people coming forward to get their booster jabs and people changing their behaviour.

"We're also encouraging residents to continue testing regularly with LFTs (lateral flow tests), to take a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test if they have symptoms and to wear face coverings in crowded and enclosed spaces where they may come into contact with people they do not normally meet.

"The pandemic has not ended, so as we move to this new phase of living safely with Covid-19, let's keep looking out for one another and recognise that we're all going to be moving forward at our own pace."



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