Still wear a face mask and social distance - the plea as 'freedom day' arrives
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
Hospital and public health chiefs in Suffolk have urged caution as England faces "Freedom Day" with Covid cases rising and hospitals preparing for a fresh influx of seriously-ill patients.
Almost all Covid legal restrictions in England are being lifted from Monday - replaced by strong advice from the government to take care and try to limit the transmission of the disease.
But in some places - most notably hospitals and other health centres - there is a strict requirement to wear masks and observe social distancing rules.
In others, like public transport, shops and hospitality, enforceable rules have been replaced by advice that customers and passengers should wear masks in crowded areas and follow social distancing rules.
Stuart Keeble, Director of Public Health for Suffolk, said: “The increasing numbers of coronavirus cases here and across the rest of the country show that we need to remain cautious in the weeks ahead.
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“The Delta variant of the virus, which is now the dominant strain in this country, is highly infectious and we must continue to do what we can to continue to curb its spread even though restrictions are being eased.
“While people will no longer have to work from home it is recommended that employers oversee a gradual return to workplace for staff over the summer.
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"Similarly, while the legal requirement to wear face masks is being lifted it is recommended people continue to use face coverings in crowded areas such as public transport.
"Masks protect others if you have the virus – you may well not realise that you have it and they prevent you from spreading it through a cough or a sneeze.
"There are people who remain vulnerable because they have not been able to get vaccinated yet or have pre-existing medical conditions, so wearing a mask shows consideration for them and others.
“Getting both vaccinations against the virus is also key. With both doses your protection against it is massively enhanced so please take it as soon as it becomes available to you.”
At Ipswich and Colchester hospitals which are run by the East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust staff, patients and visitors will be required to continue wearing masks.
Chief Executive Nick Hulme said: “We are urging everyone to play their part. Please continue following all the guidance we have in place to reduce the risk of Coronavirus infection for those working in our hospitals and for those who need our care.
“Our priority is to keep everyone safe and as we are still seeing an increase in the number of people testing positive in the community and a number of new Coronavirus admissions, we're asking all patients, visitors and staff to carry on wearing face masks and to stick with social distancing and hand hygiene measures in our hospitals.
“Visiting restrictions and specific arrangements for attending appointments will also continue for now."
There are real fears that if too many people see "Freedom Day" as an excuse stop taking care there could be big problems ahead.
The number of cases is rising quickly - in parts of Suffolk it has tripled in a week, although it is lower than many other parts of the country. Local hospital admissions have remained low - figures last week showed there were six Covid patients in Suffolk hospitals, and eight at Colchester Hospital.
Expects predict the peak in cases will top the January peak by early August.
Although vaccines have reduced the number of people needing hospital treatment and dying, the figures for both admissions and deaths are rising - the number of deaths went up by 57% last week and the number of hospital admissions by 43%.
There are also serious problems with the "pingdemic" - hundreds of thousands of people are being told to self-isolate because they have come into contact with someone who has tested covid positive.
This has forced the cancellation of some elective surgery at Ipswich Hospital and is causing problems for shops, transport operators and other vital services. Two lines on London Underground were force to shut down on Saturday because all their control-room staff were "pinged."
That came after several of the busiest pubs and hospitality centres in Ipswich were forced to close because staff had been told to self-isolate.