PHA issues summer COVID complacency warning

The Public Health Agency (PHA) is urging people to stick to key public health advice and exercise caution over the coming days and weeks, particularly with regards to social gatherings.

The PHA is aware of a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases emanating from a number of social events in North Down and East Belfast attended by young people last week, but with cases likely to follow in the next few weeks in South Belfast, Hillsborough, Comber, Bangor and the Ards Peninsula through previous and new social links. The PHA is continuing to investigate the circumstances and deploy control measures to mitigate spread.

Dr Gerry Waldron, Head of Health Protection at the PHA, said: “We really want people to continue to exercise caution and restraint to help limit the spread of coronavirus.

“Unfortunately, we have in recent days seen an increase in cases in the younger age group. This is a group which is less likely to have received both doses of the vaccine and with the increasing number of Delta cases in Northern Ireland, which we know to be much more transmissible, we are urging everyone to be sensible, enjoy the summer months, but do so safely.

“Over the next few days there will be temptation to get out and enjoy the warm weather and celebrate, but if we see large numbers gathering or people abandoning public health advice, we could see a sharp increase in cases, so we all need to act with caution.

“Whether you are attending a bar, restaurant, hotel or friend’s house, make sure to stick to public health advice and behave responsibly. It is also important not to move beyond what the guidelines permit at any given time or to take advantage of differing circumstances. This is the best way to help keep COVID-19 case numbers down and ensure that everyone can enjoy the benefits of easing lockdowns as safely as possible.”

The PHA is warning that if we collectively fail to stick to public health guidance, viral transmission will increase and we will inevitably see increased cases. The agency is also encouraging all adults to get vaccinated, as this will help protect them and those around them. Northern Ireland’s vaccination centres are now offering first dose Pfizer jabs to people in all adult age groups – to everyone aged 18 and over. There are also be mobile, walk-in and pop-up clinics in different locations.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Michael McBride said: “All of us have made great sacrifices to keep each other safe during the pandemic and I am very much aware of the impact of the restrictions on young people. They’ve lost out on so much and they deserve to be able to enjoy the summer with their friends and families.

“COVID-19 is still a very real threat and we need everyone to play their part in helping to stop the spread of the virus. Our advice remains the same – stick to guidelines and regulations; all adults aged 18 and over should get vaccinated; and, in particular, ensure you and your close contacts self-isolate if you test positive.

“I would also appeal to those organising or attending events, and to the venues hosting groups of people, to follow the current regulations and public health guidance.”

The core advice around what we can do to reduce our risk of getting COVID-19 or passing it on has been in place since the start of the pandemic and it is really important that we continue to follow these steps:

  • Wear a face covering indoors where social distancing isn’t possible, or where it’s required, such as in shops, shopping centres, taxis, public transport and banks.
  • It is also essential to wear a face covering properly and to handle it appropriately with clean, or else it won’t provide the maximum level of protection.
  • You should also maintain a social distance of at least 2m (around 6ft) between you and anyone outside of your household, to minimise your exposure to the virus and reduce the potential of spreading the infection.
  • It is also important to wash your hands properly, as this is one of the most effective things you can do to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. Wash hands regularly, and use sanitiser outside your home when hand washing isn’t possible
  • If you are indoors, try to keep the area well-ventilated.
  • If you sneeze or cough, ‘catch it, bin it, kill it.’
  • If you are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, book it now or turn up for drop-in vaccination where available; you don’t need to be invited.
  • If you have symptoms of coronavirus or have been identified as a close contact of a confirmed case, self-isolate and book a PCR test.
  • We encourage anyone who does test positive to use the new digital contract tracing option, as this is the quickest way to alert close contacts.

Dr Waldron concluded: “The advice is simple, but it’s there for a reason – to help keep us and those around us safe. Don’t take unnecessary risks, exercise common sense, and take every step available to help protect yourself, your loved ones and communities on both side of the border.

“Let’s all make sure we do what we can to stay safe.”

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