Lincolnshire should expect a difficult six weeks ahead after the “game changer” COVID mutation led to the government declaring a national lockdown until March at the earliest.
Local health bosses say the county is “holding its own,” but expect numbers to begin to climb again as the new, up 70% more infectious variant takes hold.
They warned that the new rules should not be seen as a “target” and urged people to follow the regulations in order to drive infection numbers down and relieve pressure on the NHS, with Lincolnshire’s hospital bosses declaring a critical incident.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the lockdown measures on Monday evening, just hours before the came into effect.
Under the new measures:
- People must stay at home with leaving only allowed for limited reasons such as shopping for essentials
- Primary schools, secondary schools and colleges must move to remote provision of learning
- The clinically extremely vulnerable must again shield
Mr Johnson said on Monday the aim was to end the lockdown after February half-term but it would depend on the number of vaccines given out.
But on Tuesday, Cabinet Secretary Michael Gove suggested that the lockdown is likely to be in place until March, when it’s hoped vaccinations take effect.
Lincolnshire County Council’s assistant director of public health Tony McGinty said he was surprised the lockdown was announced so late, but the new variant had “made it almost inevitable”.
He said: “Our health and social care system is under very great pressure and we need to take whatever measures we can to stop that from getting any worse.”
United Lincolnshire Health Trust, which runs the county’s hospitals, has declared a critical incident due to the demand on bed space and difficulties with staffing, he added.
He urged people to continue to attend for emergencies, but to use the NHS 111 systems if there were non-urgent issues.
Lincolnshire’s infection rates are currently well below the England average with just two districts – Lincoln and South Kesteven – sitting above the county average.
Mr McGinty said: “We are still holding our own at the moment and our rates are not too bad when you compare them to the national rates.
“Our sense of what’s coming though is that those numbers will start to climb again and, assuming that the new variant will arrive in Lincolnshire in sufficient numbers to cause problems, we can expect to have a difficult six weeks ahead.”
He added: “It’s really important people take on board that the rules are not a target, they are the limit of what people should be doing.
“The general view is that people should not be mixing with others unless they really need to and if they do they need to be taking really good precautions for their safety.”
He said the new variant had been a “real game changer” in terms of messaging around schools.
Previously, health bosses had said education was far more important for young people who had less chance of catching or transmitting COVID-19.
However, Mr McGinty acknowledged the evidence showed the new variant “spreads much more easily”.
“Whilst it remains true children are not particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, even the new variant, what they are clearly capable of doing is transmitting it during their time at school and taking it back home to people who may be vulnerable.”
Councillor Martin Hill, leader of Lincolnshire County Council, said: “With the new variant causing infection rates to rapidly increase and with hospitals across the country under extreme pressure, it became inevitable that this would happen.
“We realise this will be hugely difficult news for us all, for some more than others and I’m thinking particularly of those living on their own, older people and those with health problems.
“However, we can’t ignore the stark picture before us, and I urge everyone to stick to the new restrictions.
“Stay at home and don’t mix with others apart from your own household or bubble. Keep to the hands, face, space guidelines, and, if you develop any symptoms, no matter how mild, then please self-isolate and get tested.
“Please do get out and exercise as it’s important that you maintain your health and wellbeing at this most difficult of times.
“The new vaccine means we can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. However, let’s not be complacent and let things slip, as we aren’t out of the woods yet.
“The vaccines are effective, even after a single dose, in protecting the most vulnerable people from becoming seriously ill and when these people in our families are vaccinated then life will begin to return to normal.”