Message from Julia Burrows, Barnsley Director of Public Health – Friday 25 February

I’m sure you’ve heard the most recent announcement from the Prime Minister this week about the governments new ‘living with COVID-19’ plan.

While this plan outlines how we move through this next step of the pandemic, focusing on four main points in our response to COVID-19, we are still awaiting some further details on how this will be implemented nationally. For example, changes to testing for health and social care workers from Friday 1 April. As soon as we have this information, we’ll share it with you. For now, we can share what we know so far.

From yesterday (Thursday, 24 February), the legal requirement to self-isolate was lifted. While it is no longer legally required to self-isolate, it is still strongly advised. The government advice remains the same: you should still self-isolate if you test positive or have symptoms of COVID-19 for at least five days and avoid contact with others. After five days, you should still stay at home until you receive two negative lateral flow tests taken 24 hours apart.

We have seen how effective self-isolation can be in stopping the transmission of COVID-19; this is still really important to protect people in our communities, particularly those most at risk from the virus. I appreciate this may be more difficult for some people now that test and trace payments are ending, but I ask that if you do test positive, please follow the guidance by staying at home and avoiding contact with others.

It was also announced that from Friday 1 April, free PCR and lateral flow tests would no longer be available to the general public. However, limited testing for people with symptoms will be available for a small number of at-risk groups. Free testing for those with symptoms will also remain available to social care staff. Again, there are still many further details we need to understand about how this will work both in Barnsley and nationally. Hopefully, we should be able to share more information in the coming days and weeks.

While all these changes are coming into effect very soon, it’s important that we don’t overlook a really significant point when considering COVID-19 – protecting ourselves and others from the harm that the virus can cause. Safe behaviours have been our tools in successfully fighting the virus locally. Actions such as wearing a face covering, letting fresh air in, getting vaccinated, and regularly washing our hands remain as relevant as ever. 

It’s also important to consider those around you during this time of change; some people will be looking forward to fewer prevention measures; however, this will also be a period of worry for others. Please remember to be kind and seek help and support for your mental health if you need it. 

I know COVID-19 has brought difficulties to each of our lives in different ways. Beyond April, hopefully, the experience of managing the past two years living with COVID-19 has taught us ways to reduce the risk of spreading and catching infections. This knowledge will provide us with better long-term protection from other illnesses, especially the importance of staying at home if we feel unwell.

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