Pupils in Cumbrian secondary schools are again being told to wear face masks in communal areas as the county’s public health team tackles a rapid rise in coronavirus cases.
The emergence of the Delta variant of COVID-19 has seen rates rise from seven cases per 100,000 per day to 50 cases in a fortnight.
In the same period across north Cumbria, hospitals have gone from treating no coronavirus patients to five. A small number of hospitalisations are also being reported in the south of the county.
“There are two things now: we have a new variant out there which is affecting the protection of people. We actually have several vulnerable people who have been fully vaccinated and are still poorly,” said Colin Cox, Cumbria’s director of public health.
“Then we have the fact that even if someone has been vaccinated – we know the vaccines are very effective but even if they are 90 per cent effective we still have 10 per cent who won’t have the right sort of immune response.
“We probably still have 15,000 people in Cumbria who are over 65 who are not immune. We are just not there with herd immunity. We will probably need about 85 per cent before we reach herd immunity, which is potentially everybody who is eligible getting two doses before we get to that point.
“We may not get to that level in the next four weeks but we will be much closer and we will have more vulnerable people vaccinated.”
Mr Cox said he was hoping to have everyone over the age of 50 fully vaccinated by the end of this month.
“We do know there are people who have had two vaccines and have now tested positive. It doesn’t mean the vaccine isn’t working.”
He said the vaccine may not stop you from getting the virus but it should give most people a high level of protection against becoming seriously ill from it.
Cases rising rapidly in Cumbria
“We have seen cases rising rapidly. We’ve gone from seven cases per 100,000 population a day and in a fortnight we are up to 50 cases per 100,000 per day in Cumbria,” said Mr Cox.
“Gradually hospitalisations follow the rise in cases about a fortnight later. We haven’t seen a lot of hospitalisations but it has been rising in the last few weeks.
“We’ve gone from no one in hospital in north Cumbria to five. In south Cumbria we are now seeing low numbers.”
Mr Cox is not sure that anything could have been done differently to avoid putting the breaks on the latest easing of restrictions.
“The key thing is we are seeing the new variant which is much more transmissible. We’ve actually stuck with the roadmap. The roadmap may have been right without the new variant.
“The roadmap allowed for that delay. The 21st was always the earliest it could happen and the Government set a number of tests before it would happen.”
The Government set the following four tests which would need to be passed for the June 21 easing of restrictions to go ahead:
- The vaccine deployment programme continues successfully
- Evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated
- Infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS
- Our assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new Variants of Concern
Vaccination is key
“It is about making sure we vaccinate as many people as possible,” added Mr Cox.
“Please do get vaccinated and we have to stick to the rules to bring the situation under control. Continue to keep to social distancing and keep to the restrictions, that is how we keep the cases down, which will allow us to ease off again in four weeks.”