Suffolk’s end of an ERA, but Omicron risk ramps up
Suffolk’s status as an Enhanced Response Area (ERA) came to an end this week (December 5), but health bosses are urging people to get vaccinated and have their boosters as soon as they are eligible to combat the new Omicron variant.
The decision to end the ERA after five weeks as planned, comes as Suffolk is recording falling Covid cases, an increase in vaccination take-up and a decrease in the number of hospital admissions.
The decision was confirmed by members of the Local Outbreak Engagement Board – which includes both Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils – last week.
Stuart Keeble, director of Public Health at Suffolk County Council, has warned that while the Suffolk position has improved since the beginning of November, the situation is still challenging and uncertain, especially as the risk of the Omicron variant is still unknown. He said:
“With lower case numbers, we are in a stronger position than the reality we faced over a month ago. This means that we can end our time as an Enhanced Response Area.
“However, there will inevitably be community transmission of Omicron in Suffolk. Like before, we will make early efforts to identify and isolate all cases and their contacts to slow down any associated transmission.
“We shouldn’t panic. Viruses mutate and we will face more in the future. We know what to do - get fully vaccinated as soon as possible. That includes your booster jab when you get invited.
“Living safely is about using our common sense. As there is uncertainty around Omicron, it’s sensible to take precautions. We are not saying people should stop seeing their friends and family or meeting up with colleagues to celebrate Christmas. We are, however, asking people to step up the infection control measures, including face coverings, ventilation, washing hands, lateral flow tests when you meet others outside your household. If there are situations where you do not need to meet in person and can do virtually then let’s do so.
“We know those small acts are worth it so we can continue doing the things we love, including spending time with our friends and family this Christmas.”
Matthew Hicks, Chair of the Local Outbreak Engagement Board and Leader of Suffolk County Council, said:
“The additional support provided by the Government has helped us reduce the number of people catching Covid and ending up in hospital. We’re grateful for this support and for residents who took action to reduce the spread.
“This work is far from over though, especially with the Omicron variant and as we head for the winter months. People need to get their vaccine or booster jab as soon as it’s offered to them, and do everything they can to stop COVID from spreading. That is how we’re going to continue doing the things we love most. That is living with COVID.”
Suffolk made a request to Government to become an ERA from 1 November. This came at a time when:
- Case rates in Suffolk, particularly in Ipswich, had been on a significant upward trajectory since mid-September, with Ipswich in the top 10 areas nationally and Suffolk rates above national average
- There were increased numbers of cases among school-age children, causing considerable disruption to education
- Suffolk’s health and care system was at a near critical level
- Some parts of Ipswich had low vaccine and booster take-up rates.
However, following the time as an ERA, improvements have been seen in several areas:
- Suffolk rates are now the second lowest in the East of England (Suffolk 378 cases per 100,000 people with the East of England 478 cases per 100,000 people)
- There has been a significant decline of cases in Ipswich (from 522 weekly cases per 100,000 people on 1 November to 292 weekly cases per 100,000 people on 27 November)
- Hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients (in the four hospitals serving Suffolk residents) have fallen from 162 on 1 November to 103 on 30 November
- The number of people getting their vaccines, including boosters, continue to grow
- 12-15 year old first dose vaccine uptake is higher than national average at 50% (England average is 42.3%)
- The percentage of Suffolk residents that have received a first vaccination dose has increased from 82.8% to 85.2% between 1 November and 1 December
The ERA set out three main priorities which included schools, communications and vaccines. A programme of surge vaccinations has been rolled-in in certain parts of Ipswich where vaccination take-up was low. This vaccination programme is set to continue across Suffolk.