‘We need to take it seriously’ - public health chief’s coronavirus warning

Stuart Keeble, director of public health for Suffolk, who said the county is in for the "long haul"

Stuart Keeble, director of public health for Suffolk, who said the county is in for the "long haul" as people are asked to change their habits to battle coronavirus Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL - Credit: Archant

The director of public health for Suffolk has called on the county to follow distancing and self-isolation principles in a bid to protect the vulnerable from coronavirus.

Leaders at Suffolk County Council said now is the time for the county to come together to help comba

Leaders at Suffolk County Council said now is the time for the county to come together to help combat the spread of coronavirus Picture: ISABEL INFANTES/PA - Credit: PA

The director of public health for Suffolk has called on the county to follow advice on social distancing and self-isolation in a bid to protect the vulnerable from coronavirus.

Speaking to Radio Suffolk, Stuart Keeble said the world is facing a “long haul” of changes as a result of coronavirus, with governments continuing to alter their efforts to combat the spread of the virus.

How does the virus differ from the flu?

Mr Keeble stressed the virus is not the same as seasonal flu – and it is in the interest of protecting others that people should take government guidelines of self-isolation seriously.

Matthew Hicks, leader of Suffolk County Council, said he is confident the county's community spirit

Matthew Hicks, leader of Suffolk County Council, said he is confident the county's community spirit will help stop the spread Picture: GREGG BROWN


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Mr Keeble said: “The key name of the virus is it’s a novel coronavirus, so this means it hasn’t gone through humans before – it has come from animals and it’s transmitted into humans.

“That means none of us have any form of immunity whatsoever towards this.

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“It means then that our precautions are different to the normal influenza/seasonal flu. Also with that, people can be immunised or vaccinated against it or have anti-virals if they’re unwell in hospital. We don’t have those available to us at the moment.

“Given that, we do need to start taking these actions, we can see from other countries the trajectory that it’s taking.

“We do need to take it seriously.”

MORE: All of Suffolk’s coronavirus coverage

Why are we not being told where the virus is?

As of Sunday, March 15, three cases have been confirmed in the county – although Public Health England and Suffolk County Council have so far not given details of patients’ locations.

This is something that will not change, according to Mr Keeble, who argued the right to anonymity must be respected.

Mr Keeble said: “First of all, everyone has the right to anonymity around this and it’s enshrined in law. If that was your relation I think you’d be quite upset if people were finding out on Facebook who they were.

“But secondly because we know the number of cases are far higher in the community everybody needs to be taking the preventative actions, i.e around hygiene and also taking the opportunity to self-isolate if they have the symptoms – that is the best thing we can be doing.”

MORE: How are Suffolk venues dealing with the coronavirus?

How can we avoid spreading the virus?

Social distancing is one of the main tactics promoted by the national government to curb the spread of the virus. Official guidance is to stand no closer than two metres (6.5ft) to those around you.

Mr Keeble said one way of knowing if you are too close to another is by being able to smell their breath.

He said: “If you imagine someone has had a really garlicky meal the night before – if you can smell their breath, it’s too close.

“But it doesn’t mean we have to stop contact with people, we need to be far enough away if someone is known to be infected.

“So we can still go and drop things at people’s doors, go shopping for people, but we need to be careful if someone is self-isolating. But taking other precautions in your day-to-day life is sensible at that point.

For those with symptoms however, Mr Keeble said people should not be leaving their homes or gardens.

He added: “Starting to go out in the streets or out in the countryside, you could bump in to somebody. I think we do need to take this seriously.”

MORE: Join our Facebook group for all Suffolk coronavirus updates

I feel healthy – why should I follow government guidance?

Mr Keeble said the pandemic means people in the county should be looking out for one another, paying particular interest to the most vulnerable in the county – with over-70s said to be the most at risk group of serious health complications or death.

He said: “It’s not just about me, it’s not just about I – the fact is indeed many of our residents will be fine. They may, to put it bluntly, feel pants - but actually they will get through it.

“The key thing is we’re doing this for our grandparents, for our children who may have a profound disability or people with long-term conditions. This is why it’s important that everybody does that.”

Community spirit

Matthew Hicks, leader of Suffolk County Council, added now is the time for the community to come together.

Mr Hicks said: “The ultimate thing is that we need to look after each other – In Suffolk actually we do that really well.

“There is a massive sense of community spirit and we know that exists. As things go forward we will need to come together more and think about people in our own community who might feel slightly isolated.

“There are lots of people in Suffolk of the older generation who now today at home will be hearing these messages coming out – we heard from the SoS calling it a national emergency and people will be genuinely worried. We understand that.”

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