Public health chief hits the ground running as Covid remains priority
- Credit: CCC
Testing and vaccinations roll-out remain a priority for Jyoti Atri, director of public health for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.
She’s been obliged to hit the ground running after moving from Wales, where she was interim executive director for health and wellbeing.
There are substantial challenges in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and Jyoti is adamant neither she nor her team are “resting on our laurels” following the lifting of most lockdown restrictions on July 19.
Priorities abound, not least combatting the rates of infection on the rise in her area,
“Rates are going up,” she says “not as high as much of England where they started to take off much earlier than here.
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“But it has given us more time to catch up on the vaccination programme to protect those most vulnerable”.
Figures for first doses of the vaccine for the over 18s now stand at 78.9pc for Cambridgeshire and 62.1pc for first and second doses respectively.
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However, there are variations across the district with Cambridge “particularly low at 63pc for first dose, and 41.1pc for second dose – that's nearly a 30pc gap in second doses between Cambridge and the England average” says Jyoti.
In Peterborough the take up of first doses is 68.1pc and for the second dose 51.1pc, nearly a 20pc gap between Peterborough and the England average.
“There are probably a lot of reasons for this, mainly in the demographic where the population is younger than the rest of the average for England,” says Jyoti.
There is more “demographic churn” with more coming and going in each city.
But “pockets of vaccine hesitancy among certain communities” may also play a role.
She says: “There is always going to be a hard core of those set against vaccines, there is little we can do about that
“But more of the population we get vaccinated then the better will be the protection.”
Jyoti believes testing will remain vital for some time to come, helping to identify, for instance, possible new variants but also to identify how fast Covid is spreading.
It is also vital, she says, to know if you have it, to self-isolate and to prevent spreading it.
“That remains a key part of our strategy,” she says, “isolating if you have been exposed to it or tested positive.
“Vaccine is really good at stopping vulnerable people going to hospital and possibly dying but there is always still a chance of catching it, hence why we still urge people to get tested”.
Jyoti says an example may be if you come home from an event and have symptoms, then get a PCR test. Or if you plan to attend a festival or outdoor event, organise a lateral flow test ahead of it. Safety first is the message.
“Many mandatory restrictions have been lifted as we know,” says Jyoti.
“But my advice would remain that as far as possible carry on as you were with meeting people outside if possible, washing hands and regular testing – Covid is still with us and rates are rising.”
On holidays, she says that she personally had not yet booked one but for this year but if she did it would definitely be within the UK.
“Stay within the borders would be my advice,” she says. “We do know travel increases risk of bringing back new variants and vaccines may not protect us against them.
“And of course, there is also the uncertainty about cancellation and quarantine requirements- in reality it is about common sense.”
Is it safe to shop in Peterborough and Cambridge?
“Providing you carry on with precautions then the answer is yes,” she says.
But Jyoti says given the choice between a business applying some form of restrictions as opposed to none, she would pick the former.
“If others around you are not wearing masks there is a higher risk,” she says. “If rates were lower it would be a different story.”
She says the council continues to provide Covid-19 precautionary advice to some of the bigger events now happening.
“We are supporting them and providing advice,” she says. “Those outdoors help reduce the risk but it depends on how much space is around you.”
She says many will consider use of ‘vaccine passports’ if they are made mandatory in September and continued use of lateral flow testing.
“With a number of precautions in place, there is no reason for people not to attend,” she says.
But it will be a challenging time ahead, her team have been swamped with outbreaks in schools and work places.
There is the danger, too, of Covid-19 re-entering care homes and with large numbers of health and social care staff being forced to self-isolate after being ‘pinged’ challenges remain.
“It is vital, however, we all have two doses of the vaccine – it will protect us from going to hospital,” she says. “And by maintaining those protective behaviours we have become accustomed to, will delay or flatten the disease curve.”