Hertfordshire public health director Jim McManus warns county faces worrying rise in Covid-19 cases
Hertfordshire's director of public health has a stark coronavirus warning for Indie readers: "Treat every single person you meet as if they could be infected – and treat yourself as infected when you meet others."
The county is currently in Tier 1, the 'medium' Covid alert level, in the Government's three-tier strategy for controlling the disease, but with a worrying escalation in infections.
During a briefing for Herts media on Wednesday morning (Oct 21), Jim McManus said: "We are definitely in a second wave, with cases rising in all areas of the county and across all age groups. We're particularly worried about a recent rise in cases amongst the over-60s.
"The whole community needs to act now to slow the rapid spread of coronavirus in Hertfordshire and avoid tougher local lockdown restrictions."
He understood the special concerns of Bishop's Stortford and Sawbridgeworth residents, living on the border with Essex, which asked to move to Tier 2 – or 'high' alert – banning people from different households meeting indoors from last Saturday.
The different rules for neighbouring streets within the CM postcode have caused confusion, but Mr McManus said: "There is never going to be a perfect system."
He cautioned against viewing the tier classification in isolation and stressed that there was no single intervention which would stop the virus spreading.
He said all residents should be avoiding as much social interaction as possible: "Regardless, treat everyone as though they have potentially got it [Covid-19].
Mr McManus said: "It may not bring a lot of comfort but it's the thing that will get us out of this."
In line with the rest of the country and increasingly across the East of England region, Hertfordshire is seeing a rapid rise in numbers of infections which started in the 17-24 age group and has now spread across all age groups, with increased infections in the 60- to 75-year-olds.
Herts' infection rate is 86 cases per 100,000 population and below the 100 cases per 100,000 threshold for moving to Tier 2 – but Watford, Three Rivers and Hertsmere are hotspots and there have been increases in Broxbourne and Dacorum over the last few days and in East Herts in the past 24 hours.
Mr McManus said: "Hertfordshire is in Tier 1 – the medium alert level – and we believe that this accurately reflected the current position in the county.
"However, if cases continue to rise the way they have been, many more areas of England may need to move."
Herts would receive £2.2m from the Government to cover the costs of moving to 'high' alert, but Mr McManus was clear such a change was "just one tool in the box" to beat coronavirus along with mask-wearing, hand and surface hygiene and an effective testing and contact tracing system.
He was similarly circumspect about calls for a new time-limited lockdown. He said: "My take is that in and of itself a circuit breaker is not a magic bullet."
He said scientists were not all in agreement and added: "It would have to be done with a variety of other things like test and trace.
"It's not a zero-cost option and the Government's scientific advisors have decided to navigate a course that does not need a circuit breaker."
He agreed there were benefits to a "short, sharp shock" but an easing of restrictions would see a further rise in cases.
"Sooner or later we are going to have to find a strategy that does not rely on circuit breakers to get us out of this pandemic and back to some kind of normality," said Mr McManus.
"We cannot yoyo in and out of lockdown."