Two years of Covid: Why Sheffield director of public health Greg Fell still wears mask

It is two years today since Sheffield’s first Coronavirus death.

Thursday, 17th March 2022, 6:31 am
Updated Thursday, 17th March 2022, 10:16 am

And the Government has removed all the restrictions which were put in place to stop the virus spreading.

But Sheffield’s director of public health, Greg Fell, still wears a facemask.

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He said: “I’m still wearing a mask. Although it is hard to quantify, all the evidence from all over the world says they have made a huge difference, in schools and well beyond. I don’t know when I will stop. There will come a point when I stop. But right now there is still quite a lot of virus circulating, and I know it is still causing people to be poorly.

“I don’t want that and I’d still recommend wearing masks. But I know the Government have chosen to move away from them being mandatory.”

Although things have changed over two years, Mr Fell said people have learned to live with the virus in the city. Cases are currently rising. He does not expect it to go away altogether in the future, but believes the vaccine programme has completely changed the game, with vaccine and booster campaigns last year massively important.

“We’re not seeing a great deal of hospitalisation now,” he said. “But Covid is still causing people to be poorly. I know someone who has been fully vaccinated who is off work at the moment, who is extremely poorly.

GP Tom McAnea prepares a vaccine at St Colombas Church, Crosspool, Sheffield

“It is not causing the same level of harm as two years ago when it was a new virus. We have become accustomed to it, and there is a continuum of complacency. Some are complacent, some are scared still, and most are somewhere in between.”

He expects variants will evolve – and that many will not impact heavily. But he feels the Kent variant, known as the Alpha variant, showed they could be a problem, coming as it did before vaccines were available. He also thinks it likely annual boosters will become normal for the oldest in the city.

At the height of the pandemic, 21 per cent of hospital beds were taken by Covid patients. He says the figure is now a tiny fraction of that, but it was likely there would always be some cases in hospitals potentially taking beds away from other patients.

Greg Fell, director of public health at Sheffield Council, has explained why he is still wearing a mask

Mr Fell says it has not just been the city’s hospitals which have been affected, as the virus has also affected primary care, such as GP surgeries, which he said had been extremely busy, leading to patients having more difficulties getting appointments. He said this has stabilised now.

He points out GP practices were also affected by the rush to vaccinate, with 75 per cent of vaccines done by primary care staff. He said he thought GP practices across the city did an amazing job over vaccines.

Hong Kong deaths

He has one last thought on vaccines – and that is that those still unvaccinated should still consider the jab.

Booster vaccination queues at St Peter & St Oswald's Church on Abbeydale Road

“There are a lot of people who chose not to have the vaccine. It is a personal choice for them to make. But I do think that those who think the risk exceeds the benefit should look at what is happening in Hong Kong. They have a low vaccine rate, and have been hit by Omicron. Deaths have gone through the roof.”