Hertfordshire's director of public health issues winter lockdown warning
Hertfordshire's director of public health is warning that avoiding another lockdown before Christmas should be the country's priority rather than easing restrictions on July 19.
Professor Jim McManus urged residents to continue testing and taking precautions and said mass vaccination was the best defence against the Delta or Indian variant that has now firmly taken hold in the county.
He said its dominance, massively reducing the incidence of the Alpha or Kent variant and effectively eradicating three other mutations in Herts, offered a window of opportunity.
He said it was a "very fit" highly transmissible virus that doubled the chance of its victims needing hospital treatment, but it was "crowding out" other variants while more people receive their first and second immunisation jabs.
Professor McManus said it was imperative to keep rolling out the vaccination programme, which now offers protection to anyone aged over 18, and to continue to sanitise and social distance "or sooner or later one [variant] will evade the vaccine".
Across Herts, the case rate has increased from 25.1 per 100,000 population on June 1 to 62.9, doubling every nine to 18 days.
Professor McManus said: "The numbers are rising but so far, hospitalisations are not and so far deaths are not.
"That's a good sign and partly due to the vaccine, but there are still enough people around that are not vaccinated to see serious rises."
Professor McManus said he had "not got a clue" if the Government would continue with the next step of its Covid-19 roadmap, delayed for four weeks from June 21, and remove all legal limits on social contact.
It was positive, he said, that vaccines had severed the link between infection and hospitalisation, but he did not regard July 19 as "freedom day".
There is evidence that increased social interaction during the UEFA Euro 2020 tournament was increasing infections in men faster than women.
"This virus is not going anywhere. It will still be here on July 19 unless a miracle happens. The question is how do we open up Hertfordshire while this virus is still circulating?"
He urged residents to keep practising "the basics" of infection control. "Why? Because we do not want to go backwards. We want to go forwards.
"July 19 is not the biggest question we need to be asking ourselves, but how do we get to Christmas without a lockdown?"
Cases are rising in schools and Professor McManus said he hoped experts deciding whether or not children should be vaccinated would consider the impact of repeated quarantines on their education as well as the wider health issues.