Opinion: Covid-19: A tale of two halves at the weekend

Nurse giving man vaccination

Suffolk County Council is urging people in the county to take their first and second Covid-19 jabs as they are called, and to remain vigilant, continuing to stick to hands, face and space - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Covid-19 in Suffolk has once again dominated the headlines this weekend – a timely reminder that despite some restrictions being lifting we’re very much not out of the woods yet.

On Friday we heard that Suffolk has vaccinated it’s one millionth person, which is a remarkable achievement, and then later on the same day we heard how emergency PCR testing was being rolled out across Needham Market after a variant of concern was traced there.

Let me start with the good news – the vaccination success. Akhtar Miah, 45, from Ipswich, had his second jab on Friday on the vaccination bus. Whilst this was Akhtar’s second jab and therefore protecting him almost fully from the virus, it was the millionth dose administered in Suffolk. This is a significant milestone and one which, rightly, deserves to be celebrated. Along with regular testing, the vaccination offers us the very best chance to live with, and manage, the virus.

I would like to offer my thanks to our health colleagues for delivering such a roll-out with pace and efficiency. I am now double vaccinated and incredibly grateful for the ease of the entire process. More than 50 million people have had the jab in the UK, with more than 40% of adults having had both jabs. Those aged 33 and 32 are being contacted to book this week. As Matt Hancock, health secretary and West Suffolk MP, said at the weekend that ‘this is the most successful vaccination programme in NHS history’. That is a statement that cannot be undermined.

On the flip side of this vaccination success is the real and present threat that Covid still plays in our communities. Last Thursday we had confirmation of four additional cases of Covid in Suffolk of the variant of concern, believed to have originated in India. Three of these cases are in the Needham Market area. In response to this we quickly arranged for a mobile testing unit to be set up in the town to offer PCR testing to all those who live, work or may have visited someone in Needham Market. The purpose of this testing is to make sure we know exactly how many cases are in the town as quickly as possible so that people are able to self-isolate if they have a positive result. These cases can then be sent for gene sequencing to test for variants. It allows us to have a much fuller picture of the situation and enables us to act faster. People in Needham Market can now turn up to take a test, or book online at Gov.uk or call 119.

The turn-out from residents has been exceptional – 1,300 in the first two days. Thank you for taking the situation seriously and keeping one another safe. Even with both jabs you can still catch the virus and pass it on and there is still a proportion of Suffolk residents, including children, who haven’t have a vaccines yet. We know that younger people are less likely to get seriously ill with Covid-19, but there is always risk and we also know that younger people suffer more disproportionately from the symptoms of Long Covid. Therefore, the same precautions that we have lived with for the last year must still apply – hand, face, space. Please take your first or second jab when it is offered.

With each day that passes we learn more about the impact of the new variant, especially on the effectiveness of the vaccination. For the time being, however, it is right that we have responded in this way in Needham Market. The case numbers are still quite low, but we know how quickly this variant can spread.

It is important that we strike a safe, sensible and proportionate approach in Suffolk. While cases remain low let’s keep it that way and keep supporting  local businesses. I am sure many of us have been enjoying the easing of restrictions in the last week and it has been lovely to be able to get out and enjoy a bite to eat and a pint in the local. I am confident in the measures they have put in place to keep their staff and customers safe. We must get the balance right between safety and recovery.