Hertfordshire director of public health Professor Jim McManus urges residents to give 'helping hand' to vaccine
Hertfordshire residents are in a race against coronavirus, according to the county's director of public health.
Amid fears of a third wave of infections as Covid-19 restrictions are gradually eased in accordance with Prime Minister Boris Johnson's roadmap to recovery, Professor Jim McManus urged caution as Easter approaches.
Prof McManus, who is in charge of Hertfordshire's response to the pandemic, said: "We are in a race between the new variants which will keep emerging and the vaccine. We need to give the vaccine a helping hand."
He was optimistic that the virus was being contained in the county, following the return of schools and colleges alongside new rules which allow two people from different households to meet for recreation and visits to care homes.
But he cautioned: "We are not out of the woods yet."
The increase in social interaction since March 8 has caused some increase in infections, but Prof McManus said: "We expected this. The rising numbers are less than we had modelled as a higher-case scenario for schools going back.
"But it's a very delicate time and if we don't tread carefully, it could tip us back."
As part of efforts to control the disease, the county council staged a support day on Thursday March 18 for those self-isolating.
A 100-strong team visited 893 households and found 89% of those were properly observing precautions and just 2% were flouting all the rules.
Prof McManus said that by isolating for 14 days, 893 people could potentially prevent 290,000 further infections.
As part of the campaign, the council also made 528 offers of assistance to those staying at home to stop the spread of Covid-19.
He said: "If you want people to self-isolate, some do really well but others need support."
That ranges from practical help with food and medicine deliveries and financial aid to alleviating loneliness and tackling mental health issues.
"The fact that 89% of our residents were doing it is absolutely incredible – that's why I say our residents are our secret weapon," said Prof McManus.
"We're laying the foundations for living, studying and working in a situation where Covid-19 is endemic. The vaccine is not a magic bullet."
From Monday (March 29), people will be allowed to meet outside, either with one other household or within the "rule of six", including in private gardens. The stay-at-home rule will also end as outdoor sports facilities, including golf courses and tennis courts, reopen.
Prof McManus urged restraint over the Easter holidays so that low infection rates and roll-out of vaccines could continue to suppress the virus rather than repeating the post-Christmas spike in cases.
"We're not that far from a sweet spot... but it could just as easily turn," he said.
If the data supports further easing of restrictions, non-essential retail plus hair salons, barbers, spas and nail salons could reopen on April 12 along with gyms. From that date, restaurants and pubs will also be allowed to serve food and alcohol to customers sitting outdoors.
Prof McManus said: "There is realistic cause for hope."