North Yorkshire health officials warn Covid ‘won’t just evaporate’ this summer

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North Yorkshire health officials have warned the county will have to stay on high alert over Covid-19 for at least another year as the virus "won't just evaporate" this summer.

Speaking at a briefing today, Richard Webb, director of health and adult services at the county council, said while there was a "growing sense of optimism" in the lifting of lockdown restrictions, the threat of new variants and need for booster vaccines meant the pandemic was far from over.

"Pandemics don't just go away - the thinking globally is they tend to take two to three years to work their way through," he told the North Yorkshire Local Resilience Forum briefing.

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"We are already talking about boosters... and we will continue to have isolated outbreaks in workplaces or schools. We may also have situations where we have new variants and have to do surge testing.

Richard Webb: 'We will still have to be on a high level of alert for probably the next 12 months'Richard Webb: 'We will still have to be on a high level of alert for probably the next 12 months'
Richard Webb: 'We will still have to be on a high level of alert for probably the next 12 months'

"There is a growing sense of optimism, however, we will still have to be on a high level of alert for probably the next 12 months."

More than 35 million people across the UK, including 452,000 in North Yorkshire and York, have now received their first vaccine dose as the rollout is extended to those aged 40 and over.

The figure for second doses is 18 million across the UK and 242,000 in North Yorkshire and York.

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Under the government's roadmap out of lockdown, the next stage of lifting restrictions will come on Monday when indoor hospitality and household mixing will return, as well as hugging.

People will be able to meet in groups of up to 30 outdoors, while six people or two households can meet indoors, and Mr Webb said an approach of "care and confidence" should be taken.

He said: "Some people in our communities may feel anxious about the opening up of society and normal life again. We may feel confident ourselves but others may need more care and support so please respect that.

"We have made tremendous progress over the last few months, however, we will get occasional outbreaks. Be prepared for that and let's be confident that we can deal with those issues and be careful when we do."

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Ahead of all Covid restrictions ending on 21 June, North Yorkshire County Council has launched an 'Unlock Summer' campaign which the county's director of public health said will be a "friendly reminder to us all about what we need to do to build on the freedoms we have unlocked so far".

Louise Wallace said: "It’s positive that we are seeing low infection rates in the county, and no doubt we are all rightly looking forward to the further relaxation of restrictions.

“The chance to see family and friends in our own homes and to seize more opportunities to socialise and to enjoy entertainment is welcome as summer beckons. But we must not become complacent. Please continue to be careful and cautious."

The seven-day infection rate for North Yorkshire stands at 20.1 cases per 100,000 people - just below the England average of 21.8.

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A breakdown of the seven districts shows the figure for Selby is 66.2, Richmondshire 18.6, Craven 15.8, Harrogate 12.4, Scarborough 11, Ryedale 9 and Hambleton 8.7.

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter