Fears for more than 13,000 of Portsmouth's most vulnerable as Covid cases rise by more than 200 per cent since all restrictions dropped

MORE than 13,000 of the city’s most vulnerable people could be at risk and left ‘afraid’ to go outside once again it has been warned, as Covid cases have skyrocketed by more than 200 per cent in the weeks since self-isolation ended.

Friday, 18th March 2022, 4:55 am

Data collected by the government shows a 239 per cent growth in the number of cases in Portsmouth as of Thursday, March 10, compared to February 24 when all restrictions were dropped – as daily numbers rose from 76 to 258 on those dates.

Even worse hit than was Gosport where daily cases soared from 37 on February 24 to 136 on March 11, or a 267 per cent rise.

Fareham saw a 251 per cent rise from 49 to 172 cases between those dates, while in Havant there was a 189 per cent increase, from 55 to 159.

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The Portsmouth NHS Covid-19 Vaccination Centre at Hamble House based at St James Hospital opened on Monday, February 1. Picture: Sarah Standing (010221-1976)

Although health bosses have said a rise was to be ‘expected’ the increase locally far outstrips the average for the UK, which saw a 55 per cent increase between February 24 when there were 45,054 new cases and March 10 when there were 70,237.

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Retired school teacher Sally Kendrick from Baffins is among the 13,415 clinically vulnerable people living in Portsmouth.

The 68-year-old who lives alone suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), for which she has to be on oxygen 16 hours a day.

Helen Atkinson, director of public health at Portsmouth City Council

She criticised the decision to drop restrictions ‘so early,’ having just spent two years – including two Christmas Days – almost entirely on her own.

She said: ‘I have been very lucky I haven’t had Covid. But it means I have hardly seen anybody in that time.

‘Christmas Day for the last two years has been spent completely on my own. One of my daughters dropped off Christmas dinner to me so at least I had that.

‘It’s like the last couple of years it was wasted.

Steve Bonner. Picture: Vernon Nash (180412-005)

‘When it was time to come out I did feel very scared. It wasn’t until February this year that I started going out and seeing people again.

‘It is worrying to see the numbers going up but I think I will see people going forward, distanced where possible. I’m now getting to the stage where I think: “If I die, I die.”

‘It was too early to lift self isolation but the whole thing has been so badly managed. And “partygate” was very upsetting as someone who has been isolating for almost two years. If they [politicians] expect us to follow the rules they should do the same.’

Steve Bonner, the chairman of the Pompey Pensioners Association, agreed and branded it ‘irresponsible’ of the government to lift all restrictions.

‘We thought the restrictions were lifted far too early,’ he said.

‘It was a political decision rather one that was based on health needs. Neither the NHS nor WHO recommended it. It’s sent the message to people that it’s safe to go back to normal.

‘We have told our pensioners - and most of them were already in this mindset - that they should continue to use masks in public spaces, continue with thorough hand washing and social distance where possible.

‘We welcome the council’s move to pay for lateral flow tests for three months because that would have been another burden on people.

‘We had resumed our monthly meetings but we’ve been having a lot of people phoning to say they are afraid to go out especially if they or their partner are vulnerable.’

During the entirety of the pandemic the daily Covid case rate in Portsmouth has rarely exceeded 250 – with exceptions around the peak of the third lockdown and around the most recent Christmas and New Year. However, due to the success of the vaccine programme the death rate has remained lower than earlier on in the pandemic.

Helen Atkinson, director of public health at Portsmouth City Council, urged people to carry on with certain restrictions where possible to help the vulnerable.

She said: ‘It is concerning that coronavirus case numbers are increasing in Portsmouth as they are across the country, but not surprising as we have seen cases increase before following the relaxation of restrictions.

‘Infection rates are still high in our city so we encourage our residents to continue to keep themselves and others safe. We are encouraging everyone to carry on washing their hands more often, use hand sanitiser when out and about, use tissues or cough into your elbow when you don't have a tissue and choose to wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces. These actions can make a big difference to limit infecting others as much as possible.

‘We must also consider those who may still feel vulnerable and the steps we can take to reduce their risk and help them to feel safe too. Although the legal requirement to self-isolate has now ended we are still encouraging those who have Covid-19 to stay at home whilst they are unwell and likely to pass the virus to others who maybe more at risk of serious illness.

‘The Covid-19 vaccine remains the best protection against the virus so it is still important to get vaccinated if you haven't already. I'd like to say “thank you” to our residents for all the work they have done to reduce rates and I'm hopeful that we can limit this rise in cases as soon as possible.’

So far 162,471 people, or 80.2 per cent of all eligible residents in Portsmouth have had at least one Covid jab.

Portsmouth South MP, Stephen Morgan, said: ‘The virus is not going away and we need to learn to live well with Covid, but the level of cases we are seeing could have been avoided if government decision-making was motivated by public health, not political weakness.

‘Labour’s plan for living well with Covid would prepare us for new variants and secure our lives, livelihoods and liberties. The Conservatives’ approach risks leaving us unprepared.’

And Penny Mordaunt, the MP for Portsmouth North, added: ‘As soon as restrictions are lifted we will of course get more cases. The vaccine and booster programme has helped reduce the impact of these cases on the NHS, but it is still important to follow health guidance around hand washing and other ways we can reduce transmission.

‘The vulnerable will obviously be worried and so it is important that we all are mindful and courteous to others. I still wear a mask on certain occasions and always when someone asks me to.’

Of those identified as most at risk in Portsmouth, 17 per cent were aged between 70 and 79 – the largest proportion of all age groups.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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