Hertfordshire public health chief highlights need to ‘live safely’ with Covid-19

The public health chief spoke at a meeting of the county council’s public health and community safety cabinet panel

By Deborah Price, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Thursday, 3rd February 2022, 3:35 pm

Public health chief Jim McManus has highlighted the need to ‘live safely’ with Covid-19 – balancing the harms of the virus with the harms of endless disruption.

But he has warned that ‘living with covid’ can be used as a euphemism for letting it ‘rip through’, which – he says – is “not acceptable”.

At a meeting of the county council’s public health and community safety cabinet panel on Tuesday, February 1, Mr McManus said the current peak in Covid-19 cases had dwarfed previous waves.

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Public health chief Jim McManus has highlighted the need to ‘live safely’ with Covid-19

And while he said the disease was no longer as deadly as it was for everyone, he stressed that it was still deadly for some – and that it was not going away.

“We need to live as safely as we can with Covid because it is not going away,” said Mr McManus.

“That means we need to try to keep as much open as we can, while minimising disruption and health consequences.

“It isn’t acceptable just to let the virus rip through because it will reach the vulnerable and will have severer disease – and that will cause disruption.”

Mr McManus stressed the impact that the vaccination programme had had – but pointed to the need for additional measures and the protective role of face coverings.

” […] we are in a very different place from many other countries – we are in a very different place than we were a year ago,” he told the cabinet panel.

“So we have to capitalise on that.

“We can’t let the vaccine do everything. But we do need to continue with those measures that enable us to begin to move out of this.

“We are in a situation in England where there are very few restrictions – and indeed things like face coverings are more about protection than restriction.

“So we have to get into a mindset of how will we live safely with this – because it isn’t going away – and how we keep services running.”

Mr McManus said that ‘zero Covid’ was “completely unrealistic – and he said there were likely to be more variants to come."

He highlighted the numbers of cases in care homes that were ‘bumping around’ at 300 in care homes and the 382 current outbreaks in the county’s schools.

And he stressed that Covid was not a ‘no consequence’ disease in children – suggesting that the higher the number of children with Covid, the more teachers would be ill and the more disruption there would be to schools.

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In a response to a question from Cllr Fiona Thomson, relating to cases in schools, Mr McManus said you couldn’t keep Omicron out of schools.

But he warned that if you ‘just let it rip through’ it would ‘damage’ children vulnerable to long Covid – as well as staff vulnerable to long Covid – and that some people would become seriously ill and some people will die.

And he highlighted the value of ‘simple safeguards’, such as ventilation and face covering ‘appropriately used’ – and the advice and support offered to headteachers.

“The overwhelming majority of parents want schools safe for their children to be educated – and that’s what I hear and see,” he said.

“It is a small minority of people who want no measures – and we have to be quite clear on that.”

The meeting of the county council’s public health and community safety cabinet panel was held on Tuesday, February 1, and can be viewed at www.hertfordshire.gov.uk/watchmeetings.