Hertfordshire health chief Professor Jim McManus has warned that a Covid outbreak “which could affect a lot of people” is possible in around 16 days’ time.
The Director of Public Health at Hertfordshire County Council spoke about the latest findings in a media briefing earlier this morning (Wednesday, May 19), after a number of cases of the new Indian Covid variant were identified across the county.
Despite a number of cases being found in the county, Professor McManus reiterated that he isn’t “substantially worried” about the new variant in Herts at this stage.
Scientists believe the new B.1.617.2 ‘Indian variant’ is more transmissible than other variants, and there have been fears that it will cause a further outbreak, potentially pushing back Step Four of the government’s roadmap next month.
Speaking to the press, Professor McManus urged for calm amongst residents despite the news that there have been cases identified in nine Herts boroughs.
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He also pleaded with locals to “not go mad” after more restrictions were eased on May 17.
Speaking about the variant, he said: “The current alert level is amber and cases have plateaued in Herts but haven’t gone away and it won’t have gone away by June 21.
“As more things open, we expect to see more outbreaks. I keep saying it’s volatile but it’s a fasten your seatbelts [type of message] as it’s going to be bumpy for the next month or so and we expect that.
“And we have new variants of concern which are trackable through existing capacity at present but we have to make sure people are cautious not complacent, but cautious and not frightened.
“You still have to be reasonably circumspect about the number of people you meet indoors and the number of people you meet in circulation.
“Just don’t go mad. Just don’t do everything you can do, just think about the fact that the more people you meet the higher your risk is.”
He continued: “I am basically triangulating three sets of data. NHS 111 calls have plateaued – they haven’t gone away.
“The second thing is we are still seeing cases come through off tests on a fairly stable basis. The third is that the positivity level of tests has stabilised but it’s still there.
“And the doubling rate can be about eight days for some variants which means in about 16 days we could see an outbreak which could affect a lot of people.”
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When asked if he was worried about the new variant, he said he wasn’t “substantially worried” but admitted “it could go either way”.
He’s hoping numbers are kept low in the next two to three weeks but said if people drop their guard, infections will increase.
Professor McManus added: “It could go either way. One option is we do everything we can do about the variant and we keep numbers low, keep contact tracing going and businesses work with us.
“Then the scenario we don’t want is people dropping their guards so much and we see an increase in infections.
“Please don’t go overboard with everything. Restaurants will be very safe because they have worked hard.
“If you are going out socialising, you play your bit by not being too free with mixing with strangers and the restaurants and pubs will play their bit.”