'It's not over': Sheffield braced for rise in coronavirus cases this autumn

Sheffield should brace for an increase in Covid-19 cases over the coming months, the city’s director of public health has warned.

By Sophie Wills
Friday, 28th August 2020, 4:39 pm

The city will ‘inevitably’ see ‘flare-ups’ of the virus as we head into autumn, Greg Fell said during a public Covid-19 briefing and Q&A session with Sheffield City Council on Friday, August 28.

It follows a national trend that has seen transmission rates steadily grow across the country over the past few weeks.

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Sheffield's director of public health, Greg Fell, said about the coronavirus crisis 'whoever thinks this is all over is mistaken'

Mr Fell said this is expected to continue including in ‘well-trodden’ South Yorkshire where rates are ‘still relatively low, but higher than they ought to be’.

"I’m certainly not in a position of comfort at the moment,” he said. “We're at the end of ‘wave one’, but are likely to see cases go up in the autumn and winter.”

The latest figures for Sheffield show a seven-day rolling average of 10.7 newly reported cases per 100,000 residents – the lowest numbers since March when lockdown came into force.

Mr Fell added that there had been ‘aggressive intervention’ to tackle high concentrations of the virus in wards in the east of Sheffield, resulting in a wider spread with a ‘smaller, more diffuse number’ of cases.

"These concetrations tend to be household clusters, and do remain more associated with deprived areas, but not exclusively so,” he said.

"The mean age of a typical case in Sheffield is much lower. In March it was people in their 60s, now it’s people in the early to mid 30s – that’s probably to do with significantly reduced exposure to older people.

“Ethnicity has also shifted. A month ago, the majority of people who tested positive in the city were British Pakistani or South Asian.

"The virus is still disproportionately affecting BAME communities, but there’s a much higher percentage of white British people testing positive.

"We expect that will fluctuate and we will continue to adjust our strategy.”

Mr Fell outlined the council’s fourfold plan to to tackle the impacts of Covid-19 on the city – keep people safe, protect the vulnerable, reopen Sheffield and follow Government advice.

"We can’t live in lockdown forever, it’s not viable,” he said. "We have to re-open Sheffield, it’s important economically, socially and in all sorts of other ways.

"But we will do so safely. We’ve taken a view that we will unswervingly follow Government guidance. Occasionally we have disagreed with it, but it’s the safest place to be.

"If 150 local authorities make up their own approach, it’s a much messier situation to be in."

Addressing Covid ‘hoaxes’ circulating on social media, Mr Fell said: "Covid-19 is all a hoax, a conspiracy theory? No, it’s definitely not true.

"There’s a hoax doing the rounds that children will be forcibly detained if they test positve, categorically not true.

"Where people get their information from is proving quite an interesting thing.

"But whoever thinks this is over is mistaken – all of the epidemiology tells us otherwise.

"Locally, we’re in a reasonably good place, but cases are going to rise, partly because coronaviruses tend to be seasonal.

“We may be outside a lot at the moment but in the not too distant future we’ll mostly be inside, and the coronavirus tends to like cramped, poorly-ventilated, enclosed spaces.”

Mr Fell added there would be no real return to normal until a vaccine is found, which he expects won’t be until be the middle to the end of next year or maybe beyond.

"We’ll be standing up a response for at least 18 months,” he said, “but we also have to get back to business as usual.

"Our acute response will be basically to avoid an imposed local lockdown as seen in Leicester and Manchester. That doesn’t help anyone, and nobody in Sheffield wants it.

“Schools and universities are going back very soon, and even though they’ve been doing an awful lot of prep it will inevitably lead to an influx of students and increased mixing, so it is on our worry list – but is still the right thing to do.

“The core message is if you have a symptom, however mild, get a test, stay at home and isolate. Give details of your contacts and seek help and medical advice if required.

"Wash your hands, keep your distance and wear face coverings. We’re all in this together.”

Members of the public can put their questions to Sheffield’s Covid-19 Prevention & Management Board at monthly briefing and Q&A sessions.

These sessions will take the form of a short briefing from the Director of Public Health on the current position in Sheffield, and touch on current hot topics, before opening up to questions from the public.

For more details, to register to ask a question or watch the sessions, visit the Sheffield City Council website.

You can contact Sheffield City Council’s Covid-19 helpline for support with tasks such as shopping, medication and social contact on 0114 273 4567.

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