London public health chief warns against Covid complacency

London public health chief warns against Covid complacency

London’s public health chief Professor Kevin Fenton has warned of the dangers of complacency as Covid infection rates improve, urging Londoners to continue to follow the government’s “Plan B” rules.

“We are still in the midst of this wave of the pandemic and we need to continue to work together to drive infection rates down,” he told the London Assembly’s health committee today. “This is not yet over. We need to tackle complacency over the next few months as people feel that Omicron is behind us.”

Emerging data suggest London was “beginning to turn a corner” since the infection wave triggered by the Omnicron variant, professor Fenton told Assembly Members, with case rates, including in people over 60, stabilising after reaching a peak just before the New Year and now showing a gradual decline.

But the emergence of Omicron, which the professor said was the most infectious agent he had ever seen, had seen cases rise fivefold since early November to 2,000 per 100,000 population. And rates remained at more than 1,500 cases per 100,000.

“Although there is a temptation to say the worst is behind us, we are still seeing very high rates of infection and illness,” he added. “This means that everything we can do to drive these rates down is critical.”

The capital’s chief nurse Martin Machray confirmed that the Omicron wave had seen hospital admissions for Covid in the city trebling between early December and early January to more than 3,000.

But this had not meant a similar increase in patients in intensive treatment or deaths. “That confirms the power of the vaccine in preventing serious illness and death,” he said as the “vast majority” of patients in hospital, more than eight in 10, were unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated.

Getting all three jabs remained important, with vaccination rates, alongside a sustained fall in case numbers and infection prevalence in the community, the key indicators that the Omicron wave was subsiding and that less restrictive measures could be brought forward, Fenton added.

Londoners should be sticking to the rules too, wearing masks, working from home where possible, complying with vaccine passport requirements, testing regularly, registering test results online to help with monitoring infection levels, and isolating where necessary, he said. “These are the only tools we have at the moment to drive infections down.”

Mitigation measures were likely to be required in the future even if the “Plan B” measures were relaxed, he warned. “It is unlikely we will see rates down to the 50 per 100,000 population levels we saw in summer 2020. We will have some endemic transmission of this virus for some time to come, so we will need to think about means to live with Covid.”

Watch the health committee meeting in full here.

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