'The new strain was not the news any of us expected...and with it will likely come further change'

Column by director of health at Public Health Northamptonshire

Lucy Wightman, director of health in Northamptonshire
Lucy Wightman, director of health in Northamptonshire

Christmas is now nearly upon us. Whilst I am excited for the big day, I may not be responsible for my actions if one more person asks me if I am ready!

It’s been a terribly busy, stressful and long year for all of us in Northamptonshire and across the world. I consider it an achievement that I ordered my turkey - cooking it will be an absolute bonus!

Residents have shown remarkable resilience in their attitude and actions combating this virus to date and I want to thank each and every one of you for rising to that challenge. Together we managed to move three areas off the Government’s watch list earlier in the year and then to remain in a lower tier while surrounded by counties facing tighter restrictions. Businesses stepped up by making premises COVID-secure, schools, colleges and universities have been amazing in the continued education of our youngsters, and you have all played your part by adhering to the rules and looking after each other - for that I feel immensely proud.

It was with a heavy heart that we received the news of yet more challenges. The virus has mutated to be up to 70 per cent more contagious, meaning the virus is now spreading at a much more rapid rate. Continued adherence to the guidelines, however tight, is therefore absolutely vital.

We are all having to take a big breath again and, with loved ones not always near, this is a very tough time for many.

The new strain was not the news any of us expected and with it will likely come further change.

I can only reassure you that given the data and the current pressure on our NHS services, the Government’s action is absolutely essential. We are now in a situation of exponential growth which, if left unchecked, would lead to a rapid escalation in cases and hospitalisations that could overwhelm our NHS services over the festive period and into the New Year. This week’s data shows that 1,243 residents have tested positive with COVID-19 since last week and many normal NHS hospital services have had to be stood down.

At the moment I am still deeply concerned about the rising trend in cases so we all need to be extra cautious with the loved ones we do see. I urge you to think very carefully about meeting people indoors on Christmas day. Our over 60s are still suffering and dying, and the virus is also thriving in the county’s working population. The age group with the most positive tests this week is the 40 to 49 year olds, both men and women. The last thing anyone wants to give the ones they love for Christmas is COVID-19.

We must all continue to follow the simple and effective measures that protect us from the virus; wash hands regularly, wear a face covering, keep a safe distance and let fresh air in.

We have now passed the shortest day of the year and as we look to the lighter days there is hope. I am confident of that hope because, as a county, we have braced ourselves for battle before, I know we can do it again. We are braver than we believe, stronger than we seem and smarter than we think.

This year has been one of the toughest I can remember and the thing that has affected me the most is hearing people’s stories of the sacrifices they have made and indeed the human sacrifice because of this dreadful virus. The best gift we can give anybody we love this Christmas is their health and that means hunkering down, staying at home when we can and staying safe from the virus.

Have a safe, healthy and happy Christmas and again, thank you for everything you have done this year to keep yourselves, your loved ones and in turn Northamptonshire’s fellow residents well.

* If you have COVID-19 symptoms (high temperature, continuous cough or loss of or change in sense of smell or taste), you should immediately self-isolate and book a test. New booking slots are available each evening for the next day and more are released each morning. Pre-booking is essential.

* If you test positive, you must self-isolate for ten days – with your household isolating for 10 days from when the positive person’s symptoms started - do not go to your workplace, to school or to the shops. Either work from home or report sick. Those who test positive for COVID-19 will be helped by the NHS test and trace service to identify the people they’ve recently been in contact with so they can be alerted and also self-isolate if required.

* Tests can be booked on the Test and Trace app, online at nhs.uk/coronavirus or by calling 119. Home testing kits can also be ordered subject to availability.