Update by the Director of Public Health
The Director of Public Health provided a Coronavirus (Covid-19) position statement. With regards to the Epidemiology, he stated that the rate of infection was in decline as a result of the impact of the lockdown. The seven-day rate of infection has been falling steadily and is in the order of about 150 per 100,000, trending towards 100 per 100,000. It is very unlikely that the rate will get to the levels that we saw last summer as a result of the impact of the new variant of the virus, but it is expected that the range will be a good way below 100 per 100,000 in the not too distant future. He confirmed that there had been a fall in both whole population rate and the over 60 rate.
He stated that the R rate for the region is thought to be below 1, but only just; 7% of people who have symptoms who then gets test are testing positive which is significantly less than a month ago when the rate was 15%; cases are spread pretty evenly across Sheffield; household transmission remains the main form of transmission; rates are coming down in all age groups, but are still higher in the working age population; hospital activity appears to be over the peak but still remained at a high level. This will decline really slowly so the health and social care system will be dealing with the consequences of the wave we've just seen probably for some time to come.
The B117 or the Kent variant is the dominant strain and in Sheffield is about 75% of all cases. It is definitively more transmissible and that will have an upward impact on the seven-day infection rate. There are two other significant variants of concern, the South Africa and Brazil variants, neither of which are in Sheffield at the moment but that is probably a matter of time. Both of those are of significant concern. Neither are thought to be particularly more dangerous to individuals but the antibodies from either the vaccination or from prior infection with the previous virus may not protect us quite as well.
The vaccination rollout is clearly progressing well. In Sheffield over 150,000 people have been vaccinated which has been a huge effort on all fronts. The vaccination rates in the cohorts that we have offered the vaccine to are pretty high. There is some more work to do for us to ensure that we increase vaccination coverage in care home staff. We are now moving into the cohort 5 (65 to 70 year olds) and cohort 6 which is essentially those adults who would ordinarily get a flu jab, 16 to 64 year olds with underlying medical conditions plus carers. We are sticking with the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation criteria. The reason is that if we say yes to a particular group means that someone who is probably higher risk of serious consequences would have their vaccinations delayed. He reported that yesterday, another approximately 10,000 Sheffield residents were added to the shielded list as a result of the national policy change. Equality wise thus far, surprisingly, there has been few massive signs of unequal uptake, however the data may not be as robust as we want and this position may not last. As we get to vaccinate younger people I think we will start to see significant inequality in vaccination uptake. There is a lot of soft intelligence that the vaccination rates in Asian groups are lower than white groups and black African Caribbean groups are lower than Asian groups. There is no hard data on that but a lot of soft intelligence, so we need to be vigilant. There is further good news on vaccination as we are beginning now to see the signs that it is reducing death rate and hospitalisation rate in the very elderly. It is important for people who have been vaccinated not to see this as a pass out and we are asking people to still obey the rules. We want to avoid unmitigated spread in an unvaccinated population because that will still cause harm to people. Unmitigated spread risks further mutations.
Details of the easing of restrictions will be set out in the prime minister's announcement next week and it is likely to be a gradual reduction in restrictions over a long period of time. He referred to the talk in the media of zero Covid which he considered to be probably unachievable. Unfortunately we will be living with Covid for some time to come. There won't be a clean exit from the pandemic and my sense is that there are three criteria to be met: the R rate needs to be well below one; community transmission will need to be very much lower; and we will need to have a well vaccinated population.
He confirmed that the basic strategy set almost a year ago is largely intact as is the basic plan, although it is being reviewed at the moment. There is more as a city we can and will do on testing and we continue to push for those who have symptoms to go and have a test. On contact tracing, we have our own team now that supports the national team. We continue to push hard on additional financial and other support to those who are asked to isolate. We will also look at adapting the city to living with Covid for the long term .