Portsmouth residents warned to exercise 'level of caution' as masks no longer mandatory

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CITY health experts have warned people to exercise a ‘level of caution’ going forward, despite the use of face masks no longer being mandatory.

Cases of coronavirus have soared by almost 40 per cent over the most recent week in Portsmouth with 392 new cases recorded in the seven days from June 23.

And of these 99 were cases of the highly infectious Delta variant – bringing the total number of Delta cases to 316.

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It comes as Boris Johnson has announced as of July 19 the use of face masks in public spaces will not be compulsory, although guidance will suggest wearing one in certain places.

Masks will no longer be mandatory from July 19.
Mask wearers in Palmerston Rd, Southsea
Picture: Chris Moorhouse (jpns 030721-23)Masks will no longer be mandatory from July 19.
Mask wearers in Palmerston Rd, Southsea
Picture: Chris Moorhouse (jpns 030721-23)
Masks will no longer be mandatory from July 19. Mask wearers in Palmerston Rd, Southsea Picture: Chris Moorhouse (jpns 030721-23)
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Almost 100 new Delta variant cases recorded in Portsmouth

Director of public health for Portsmouth, Helen Atkinson, said: ‘As per the advice we've given when rules have relaxed previously, it's down to individuals to decide what they’re comfortable with.

‘Even if face coverings and social distancing become no longer mandatory it doesn’t mean you can't still practise these and you might prefer to in certain situations, for example indoors with lots of people you don’t know.

‘I'll still be exercising a level of caution and would recommend that others do, especially if they've yet to have both doses of the vaccine.’

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According to the latest figures there have been 15,563 cases of Covid in Portsmouth since records began – or 7,241 per 100,000 of the population.

Despite the high levels, Ms Atkinson explained the rate of severe illnesses and death from the virus is lower than previously due to vaccines.

‘We've seen a 39 per cent increase in our local seven day rate of Covid cases in line with what is being seen across the rest of the south east region,’ she said.

‘We'd rather not have the infection spreading as it currently is but at the moment we're pleased to see that it isn't causing the same level of severe illness, hospitalisation or deaths as it has previously, which is down to the success of the vaccine programme.’

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However, Dr Simon Kolstoe, a senior lecturer in evidence based healthcare at the University of Portsmouth, said maintaining the use of masks would be a ‘reasonable’ precaution.

He said: ‘Maintaining widespread use of face masks would be a reasonable and proportionate precaution to keep in place - ideally mandatory when in confined, crowded and poorly ventilated places.

‘Face masks are a proven health intervention that reduces the spread of coronavirus. Unlike other interventions such as social distancing, they have very little impact on business or social activities.

‘While the successful vaccination programme has clearly provided reason for optimism and justification for relaxing many restrictions, the increasing number of cases due to the current Delta variant is worrying.’

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As of July 4, 136,077 of adults in Portsmouth have had at least one Covid vaccination – or 71.6 per cent – and 101,682 have had both – or 53.5 per cent.

And there have been 365 deaths in the city linked to Covid-19.

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