Covid infections in Hertfordshire have almost trebled in three weeks

"This is not just an uptick - this is a significant rise in numbers"

The number of Covid infections in Hertfordshire has almost TREBLED in the past three weeks.

Latest data shows that more than 11,045 cases were recorded in the seven days to March 16 - equivalent to a case rate of 923.7 per 100,000 of population.

And that is almost three times the 328.6 case rate recorded less than three weeks ago, on February 28.

Director of public health Jim McManus

Director of public health Jim McManus highlighted the 'significant rise in numbers' at a media conference on Tuesday (March 22), timed to coincide with the two-year anniversary of the first lockdown.

He warned that the case rate had changed 'quite dramatically' in recent weeks - with cases increasing in most age groups, including the more vulnerable over-60s.

He said that there were currently outbreaks ongoing in 111 schools across the county, with businesses and services also reporting disruption.

And he suggested that if cases continued to rise, there could be another peak around Easter.

"This is not just an uptick - this is a significant rise in numbers," he said.

"Is it a further wave? We don't know. Will it peak any time soon? My feeling is it will peak around Easter, if it keeps going like this."

But Mr McManus also pointed to four measures that people could do to avoid disruption and minimise the spread of the infection.

He urged everyone to be vaccinated - or boosted, if eligible - as he said this would reduce severe disease.

He also recommended the ventilation of offices, homes, premises and leisure facilities - as well as the wearing of face masks in crowded areas.

And he said people should remain at home if they had symptoms that were consistent with Covid.

These symptoms are a high temperature, a new continuous cough and a loss or change to sense of smell or taste

Mr McManus reported that the numbers currently being admitted to hospitals in Hertfordshire are fluctuating and below the levels in previous peaks.

But he warned that many of the people being admitted are in their 30s and 40s and unvaccinated.

"It is not all elderly people that are coming into hospital," he said. "Quite a lot of people who are unvaccinated and people in 30s and 40s are being admitted as well."

Mr McManus says Omicron is still the dominant variant, but there are two sub-variants in circulation.

And he said some people are now catching Covid for a second or even third time - reporting a reinfection rate of around 10 per cent.

Although the Omicron variant is said to be 'milder' than the previous Delta variant, Mr McManus stressed that it was 'not mild'.

He said that 'mild' only meant that hospitalisation was not required - and that there are a lot of cases where Omicron has left people with a severe coughing and other symptoms for several weeks.

He agreed that people may have become a bit complacent, but he also pointed to a lot of people - many amongst the county's 65,000 clinically vulnerable - who continued to be 'really worried'.

And he asked that people were 'kind' to those who opted to wear face coverings - stressing that they would never know if those wearing face coverings had an underlying health condition.

"The bottom line of all of this is that this is our first foray into really trying to live with Covid," he said.

"And I think the numbers of infections have really surprised a lot of people.

"And so if we are going to make it successful we have to get through this surge - this hump - and out the other end."

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Meanwhile, Hertfordshire has brought together a team of 'vaccine tracers', in a bid to boost vaccination levels across the county.

Hospital data suggests that those who pick up the virus, but who are unvaccinated are significantly more likely to be admitted to intensive care.

So the tracers are now identifying and contacting those who are not fully vaccinated - prioritising those who are most at risk

They are available to answer any vaccination questions or address any concerns residents may have.

And, if required, they can make the vaccination appointments - and even, in some cases, offer transport.

Stressing the benefit of vaccination against Covid, director of public health Jim McManus points to 'quite stark' data that shows that 'the bulk' of people admitted to intensive care with Covid are unvaccinated.

He doesn't expect that every person in Hertfordshire will take up the offer of vaccination. But he says there are some people who have yet to get around to it.

"Some people have been waiting, because actually they have said 'I want to wait for a year and see what the virus does and what the vaccine does - and then get vaccinated'," he said.

"There are some people who just have never had the time to get around to it.

"And there are some people who genuinely have questions.

"And there's a very very small proportion of people who have declined vaccination.

"We are not going to get 100 per cent. But if you get 30 people all of whom are at heightened risk who haven't been vaccinated, that is still 30 people who otherwise would be in hospital."

Latest data shows that across Hertfordshire of 83.5 per cent of residents aged 12 and over have had at least one dose of the vaccine.

Alternatively, anyone who needs help to book a Covid vaccination - or has questions - can call 119.