The risk of people cutting themselves off due to fear of Covid is now arguably greater than the risk of the disease itself for most people, York’s assistant director of public health has said.
Fiona Phillips said the vaccination programme and antiviral drugs had changed the nature of the infection for all but “a very small group” of people.
Ms Phillips said she understood people who were seen as clinically vulnerable at the start of the pandemic may still feel nervous, but the city was moving towards a “new way of living with Covid”.
She was speaking at the final meeting of the city’s outbreak management board, which was set up at the start of the pandemic to bring together health leaders and councillors to coordinate the city’s response.
All of York’s symptom-free testing sites will close by Sunday (March 27), with PCR sites closing on March 30.
Routine contact tracing has also come to an end, while from April 1 free lateral flow tests will no longer be available to the public, and will in most cases have to be purchased.
Ms Phillips said: “What we’ll be asking people to do – whether you think it’s Covid, a cold or stomach bug – it’s moving to being really thoughtful about who we’re mixing with and not sharing our bugs with people because you don’t know what vulnerabilities people might have.”
She added: “Earlier on in the pandemic, when we really didn’t know very much about Covid, telling people that they were clinically extremely vulnerable they had to shield and at the time, that was absolutely the right thing to do.”
‘Huge pressures’ on NHS
But Ms Phillps said the small number of people who were still vulnerable will still be under the care of clinicians.
I can completely understand if you were told you are vulnerable to this that it’s hard to get out of that mindset and move to feel reassured that actually all of the evidence points to – with the treatments, vaccination and knowing what we know and the way that the virus has evolved – that those people are not particularly any more vulnerable if they have been vaccinated.
Arguably, the risk from people living in that very closed way and that fear is more than the risk that now Covid presents to them
Ms Phillips also said the longer-term effects of the pandemic would be felt “for years to come” as other members of the board said how much pressure services remained under.
Professor Mike Holmes, who coordinates York’s Covid mass vaccination centre, said there were still “huge pressures” across the health system.
The number of Covid patients in York Hospital has risen to a new record of 261, though only four of those are in intensive care.
Alison Semmence, chief executive of York CVS, said the voluntary sector was feeling the effects of Covid “worse than ever”.