Portsmouth politicians, health officials and community leaders raise concerns as government announces all Covid restrictions will end in the UK in 'live with Covid' plan

CONCERNS have been raised in Portsmouth over the government’s plan to scrap all coronavirus restrictions in England.

By Fiona Callingham and Freddie Webb
Monday, 21st February 2022, 6:02 pm

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the cabinet have signed off on plans to ‘live with Covid’ by ending all legal measures.

The legal requirement to self-isolate will be removed on Thursday.

Speaking at the House of Commons, Mr Johnson said the high levels of immunity and a low number of deaths make the plan possible.

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The plans to end all Coronavirus restrictions in England have caused concern from Portsmouth politicians and community leaders.

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He also said the cost of vaccinations and testing has reached £15.7bn, and free Covid tests will end from April 1.

Various health officials, community leaders, and politicians have raised concerns about the announcement.

Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan said it is unsafe to end free testing.

He said: ‘Scrapping free tests is the wrong decision at the wrong time.

‘Testing is crucial for keeping infections under control and preventing the return of restrictions to our lives, livelihoods and liberties.

‘Labour shares the concerns of the NHS Confederation, World Health Organization and British Medical Association that the decision to do away with all restrictions is premature.

‘This decision seems to have been motivated by political weakness, not public health. Labour will look at the detail of this plan, but will always be driven by scientific advice and put public safety above all else.’

The most vulnerable people will continue to get free kits if they are symptomatic, but others will have to pay.

Additional booster jabs will also be offered to specific groups.

Anyone aged 75 or over, residents in care homes for older adults, and anyone 12 or over immunosuppressed – people who find it harder to fight infection – will get the chance to have an extra jab in the Spring.

Steve Bonner, the chairman of the Pompey Pensioners Association, said although the extra booster jabs were reassuring, he was concerned that Covid restrictions were being scrapped.

He told The News: ‘The government are continually saying that they are following the science, but clearly at the moment they are not.

‘This is probably good news for Conservative MPs, but we think it is premature.

‘There are still high levels of contagion, and for older people who are more vulnerable and have other medical concerns, they also think it is premature.’

Mr Bonner advises elderly residents, and his 350 members, to continue wearing masks in shops and on public transport, and to socially distance where possible.

He added: ‘Most of our members are committed to wearing masks and socially distancing where possible.

‘That is the sort of advice we will continue to give them, until the science says it is safe to abandon these precautions.

‘The levels of contagion in society are still too high.’

Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of Portsmouth City Council, had similar apprehensions. ‘I'm sure many will be pleased to see restrictions removed, I would however encourage everyone to do what we can to protect ourselves and those around us as we move forward and learn to live with the virus,’ he said.

‘It's important we still look out for each other; remember to be considerate to those who are more vulnerable to the virus due to having a weakened immune system or a health condition that puts them at high risk, and keep in mind that a return to 'normal' might be difficult for some.’

However, Conservative MP for Portsmouth North, Penny Mordaunt, said: ‘I’m glad that we are returning to normality. The strategy rests on vaccinations and the best treatment.

‘I want to thank everyone in Portsmouth who got us through this hugely challenging time.

‘As I discussed with the chief fire officer last week, while we look to the future we should also consolidate the systems we have built locally to help in a pandemic, for example, utilising volunteers to deliver the vaccine programme.

‘We should also bear in mind that those who are highly clinically vulnerable, or who care for them, will have concerns and we should all be mindful of that as we get back to normal. I understand that further measures for carers and others who may need access to testing will be made shortly.’

Local health officials are advising the public to consider vulnerable people around them.

Roger Batterbury, chairman of Healthwatch Portsmouth, said: ‘Public health guidance is likely to continue to recommend the wearing of masks in crowded indoor areas, the frequent ventilation of rooms in which people are congregating and meeting and to continue to hand sanitise on a regular basis.

‘Reducing the risk of transmission of the virus to people who are clinically vulnerable or people with lower immune systems would be something that Healthwatch Portsmouth hopes the public will still want to continue observing even when the rules change and there is no longer a legal requirement to do so.’

Director of public health at Portsmouth City Council, Helen Atkinson, said the number of cases falling in Portsmouth was encouraging, and advises people to look out for others.

She said: ‘We’ve come a long way in the last two years and know what we can do to help keep ourselves and others safe.

‘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.

‘The Covid-19 vaccine remains the best protection against the virus so it is still important to get vaccinated if you haven't already.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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