Alice Wiseman is the Director of Public Health at Gateshead Council and she supports the ‘Step Up to Beat Covid’ encouraging northeasterners in the absence of any rules, to still do what’s right, and continue to help stop the spread of the virus.
She understands that many people may still have questions about what it means to ‘learn to live’ alongside Covid - or to still feel worried about the virus and returning to everyday life. Here, she answers some of the most frequently asked questions from local people.
Q. Why are Covid cases rising in the North East?
Regionally, we’re seeing the same trend of increasing cases as other places across the country. Thankfully though, the number of people becoming seriously ill remains very low, thanks to the success of the vaccination programme.
Vaccination is still the best form of defence against the virus. Please ensure you have all recommended doses of the vaccine and if you’re eligible come forward for the Spring booster. Getting all recommended doses of the vaccines means you are far less likely to experience severe illness or hospitalisation.
Q. What is the new Covid variant Deltacron?
As the name suggests, the Deltacron variant combines genes from both the Delta and Omicron strains of the Covid-19 virus. When this happens, it’s known as a “recombinant” variant and it’s not unusual when there are two variants in circulation at the same time.
At the moment, we know very little about Deltacron. The UK Health Security Agency is monitoring cases so we will learn more as time goes on, but it is not currently thought to be significantly more severe or transmissible than other variants. At the moment, the dominant variant in the North East is Omicron.
Q. Does the vaccine work against Covid variants?
Vaccination is undoubtedly the reason why the number of Covid deaths and severe illness remain low, despite increasing case rates in the region. We have also built up a good level of immunity through previous waves of both Delta and Omicron, so there is no reason to think that this immunity would not stand up to a combination of the two.
We simply don’t know whether the current vaccines will work against all future variants, but we do know that reducing transmission of the virus also reduces the risk of mutations. Put simply, the best way to stop new variants from emerging is to stop the spread. That’s why it’s so important that we all continue to get vaccinated, socially distance, stay at home if unwell, wear a face covering and wash our hands - to protect ourselves and others.
Q. What if I have symptoms and I can’t get a test?
If you don’t feel well, you should take whatever steps you can to avoid passing on your illness – whether that’s Covid or another virus.
Stay at home if you can. If you can’t stay at home, avoid crowded places and people who may be more vulnerable, wear a face covering and remember the basics – wash your hands regularly and use a tissue if you need to cough or sneeze.
Q. Will I have to go to work if I get Covid?
You’ll need to check with your employer. Although self-isolation is no longer a legal requirement, many employers will recognise that coming into the workplace while you’re unwell is not advisable – especially if you have a transmissible virus like Covid.
Q. Who is eligible for the Spring Booster vaccine?
Spring booster vaccines are being offered to people aged 75 and over, people who live in a care home for older people and people aged 12 and over who have a weakened immune system.
Getting vaccinated is the single most effective thing you can do to protect yourself and others from serious illness, but the vaccine’s protection does wear off over time. That’s why it’s important to get all the recommended doses for your circumstances and continue to take other precautions, like wearing a face covering and keeping indoor spaces well ventilated.
Q. Why should I continue to wear a face covering?
Some people with Covid have no symptoms, so they could be passing the virus on to others without realising – especially now that lateral flow tests are no longer freely available. It’s easier for the virus to spread in crowded, enclosed places, so wearing a face covering on public transport or in busy shops reduces this risk.
There are also lots of people who still feel anxious about going out and about now that restrictions have relaxed and seeing others wearing masks could make them feel more comfortable. Think of wearing a face covering like other things we do that aren’t mandatory, but we do them out of courtesy for others – like washing our hands.
Q. How can I protect myself and others from Covid day-to-day?
Make sure you’re up to date with your vaccines and continue with the good habits we’ve all become used to. Keep your distance when you can and wear a face covering when you can’t, wash your hands regularly and let the fresh air in if you’re meeting up with others indoors. If you don’t feel well, stay at home.
We can all take simple steps to help keep infection rates low, our communities and loved ones safe and our health and social care services strong as we learn to live alongside Covid.