Sheffield's health leaders give important update on coronavirus vaccine and schools closing
Tough rules have “undoubtedly” helped reduce coronavirus infections in Sheffield but “many months” of restrictions lie ahead, the city’s leaders have warned.
Director of public health at Sheffield City Council, Greg Fell, and leader of the local authority, Julie Dore, told a Covid-19 Prevention and Management Board public briefing on Friday the city is not out of the woods despite positive progress.
Councillor Dore said: “The vaccine is on it’s way but it won’t be the silver bullet that some people think it might be.
"We’ve got many months ahead.”
Mr Fell repeated previous predictions from health leaders that a vaccine could be widely available from Spring next year.
"Sadly for me and you we remain reliant on basic public health interventions for the foreseeable future,” he said.
Mr Fell said Covid cases in Sheffield remain high but are “falling quite rapidly.” Tier 3 restrictions and the current lockdown has “helped undoubtedly [...] albeit at some cost”.
He added: “The cost is the bit that worries us all.
"The huge caveat is people will be fed up. When we get fed up we stop following the rules, that’s where we get into worrisome territory.”
As of 27 November, about 186 people are testing positive for coronavirus in Sheffield daily.
The city’s infection rate is “just less than 200” per 100,000 people over the last seven days, down by about 100 from the previous week, while the number of people with symptoms who test positive for the virus has also fallen from 15 to 11 per cent during this period.
Sheffield now has the third lowest infection rate in Yorkshire.
Mr Fell said: “These numbers are changing quite quickly and going in the right direction, at still a high level though.”
"Hospital activity is falling slowly and I think it will continue to fall slowly.”
Coronavirus-related deaths are “beginning to plateau” but the city’s hospitals remain “very, very, very busy” with "little room for manoeuvre.”
There will be a limited lifting of some rules in Sheffield from next Wednesday, but the city will remain in the highest tier of restrictions until at least 16 December when they are reviewed.
Mr Fell said: "I think we will continue to see rates continue to go down, which can only be a good thing.
"We don’t want to be in Tier 3 for a long, long time because Tier 3 comes with substantial social and economic costs.”
However, he admitted he was still in the dark about how Sheffield can claw back some freedoms.
"The Government haven’t published it [the exit strategy].”
Mr Fell also said he believes it is best for schools to stay open after a member of the public asked whether they are safe.
Teaching union UCAC said schools should shut early to help children and staff avoid having to self-isolate on Christmas Day and a petition has attracted more than 100,000 signatures.
Mr Fell said: “As a rule schools are as safe as they possibly can be.
"There is a residual risk but the risk is pretty small.”
In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.