Will a high Covid case rate or new Indian variant slow Sheffield’s route out of lockdown?

Sheffield’s most senior public health official has said it is ‘unlikely’ that the city’s relatively high Covid case rate will slow down its passage out of lockdown.

Wednesday, 12th May 2021, 11:09 am

Public health director Greg Fell said that while Sheffield’s case rate was currently around double the national average, this did not mean restrictions were likely to continue longer in the city than in other parts of the country.

Sheffield’s rate is thought to be higher due to the fact Yorkshire had a lower proportion of Covid cases of the so-called Kent variant when the country went into lockdown in January.

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Doctors wearing protective equipment are seen loading a patient in to an ambulance (Photo by Peter Summers/Getty Images)

This meant that the region was ‘behind the curve’ of the newer variant’s spread around the country when lockdown slowed transmission hugely early this year.

Since then, the Kent variant has ‘caught up’, now making up almost all of the Covid cases in the city.

But despite this, Mr Fell said the chances of this variant now causing serious harm are now much lower due to the huge numbers of people that have been vaccinated - particularly in the most at risk groups.

He said: “When restrictions loosen that will cause rates to go up. There are no two ways about that.

Director of Public Health for Sheffield, Greg Fell.

“But we have a pretty well vaccinated population now. More than 80 per cent of the over 50s. So the group that are the most likely to be harmed are the best vaccinated.

“Some young people will get long Covid and that isn’t nice so it is still important that we take care. But if we do we can expect to have something akin to a normal summer.”

New variants of Covid do remain a concern, with the Indian and South African mutations of the virus causing scientists most worry.

Clusters of the Indian variant have recently been detected in Bolton, with ‘surge testing’ being undertaken in specific postcodes in the town to slow the spread.

Mr Fell said Sheffield was well prepared to follow suit if needed, but that worries about variants simply underscored the importance of the vaccination programme in providing a way out of the pandemic.

“The vaccines have worked better than any of us had ever hoped,” he said.

“But if we want to do things like keep the pubs open it is really important that we do all we can to keep Covid under control.”

The next stage of the Government’s coronavirus radmap comes into effect on Monday, May 17.

Gatherings inside homes are to be permitted once again, with a limit of up to six people or two households meeting indoors.

A return to indoor museums, cinemas, restaurants and pubs is also on the cards – and this time without any 10pm curfews.

And pub-goers will also be free to meet for a pint without being required to buy a substantial meal, but they must order, eat and drink while seated.

Up to 30 people will be able to celebrate weddings, wakes and religious ceremonies together - and up to 30 people will be able to meet up outside as well.

The final stage of the roadmap, when all restrictions on social contact will cease to apply, is scheduled to come into effect on June 21.

However, experts have said it is likely social distancing and measures like mask wearing will continue for some time.

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.