We must 'learn to live with COVID' as county takes first steps towards end of lockdown

Jim McManus, the council's director of public health (left), and Cllr Tim Hutchings, executive member for public health...

Jim McManus, the council's director of public health (left), and Cllr Tim Hutchings, executive member for public health and protection - Credit: Herts County Council

Following the government's announcement yesterday of a 'roadmap out of lockdown', Herts County Council has emphasised the need to remain vigilant against the virus as restrictions are eased.

Tim Hutchings, the council's executive member for public health and protection, said: "I think it's really important that we just hang on a little bit longer.

"There's light at the end of the tunnel and I think now's not the time to be less vigilant."

Despite vaccines offering significant protection, director of public health Jim McManus emphasised that learning to live with COVID-19 is the next step, which means maintaining social distancing for as long as necessary and continuing hygiene measures.

He said: "The virus is here and it's here to stay for the foreseeable future. Although the vaccine reduces it, it doesn't look like the vaccine completely eradicates transmission yet.

Mr McManus added that "as a nation we have been far too complacent about coughs and sneezes and food hygiene", stating that increased hygiene measures due to COVID-19 could cause a general reduction in colds and flu in the future.

He said: "People in Hertfordshire have done really, really well. The public are very realistic and cautious, and there's a strong alignment between what professionals are saying and what the public are saying.

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"This plan will only work with residents continuing doing what they are doing."

This means people need to get the vaccine when they are told to, need to keep their distance from each other and need to continue to take hygiene precautions.

Tania Rawle, the council's head of school standards and accountability, said Herts County Council will also continue to work with schools to help them adapt when they reopen on March 8.

She said: "We are working with schools to manage rapid testing and continue to offer support. 

"Schools have been working in this environment for quite some time now and they adapted to different situations and different guidance and showed a lot of resilience."

When schools reopen, secondary school pupils will be tested twice a week. Their first three tests will take place in school, and from then on they will be given home test packs.