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Coronavirus / Health board urges people to use common sense as Covid restrictions end

Vaccination booster programme confirmed for the autumn

WITH Covid restrictions set to be lifted from Monday and life prepares to return to near normal, NHS Shetland has appealed to local people to use their common sense when enjoying the new freedoms.

From Monday, social distancing will legally no longer be required though the wearing of face masks continue to be mandatory when inside public buildings, but not when dancing in a night club or drinking ‘vertically’ in a pub.

Pubs, restaurants and cinemas can all open without restrictions, and changes in the self-isolation rules for fully vaccinated people are likely to result in fewer people being off work.

Urging caution despite falling infection numbers and a high vaccination uptake, interim director of public health Dr Susan Laidlaw said on Friday that “just because we can, doesn’t mean we should”.

Last week Shetland recorded 15 new Covid cases, including one today, a significant drop from previous weeks. The local seven day infection rate per 100,000 population sits at 65.6 – well below the Scottish average.

NHS Shetland’s interim director for public health Dr Susan Laidlaw.

Dr Laidlaw confirmed that a Covid booster vaccine is set to be offered to the most vulnerable, health and social care staff as well as everybody over the age of 50 from late September/early October onwards.

“We are planning a booster programme and for the moment this is for highest risk groups, the priority groups 1 to 9 last year,” she said.

“What we don’t know yet is what vaccine we have to give to people, whether we give them the same they had for their original two doses, or whether it should be something different, or whether it doesn’t matter.

“Ideally we like to give it alongside the flu vaccination programme, because the groups are the same more or less; so if we could give both together that would be a lot easier in terms of people coming to clinics and in terms of our capacity at clinics. However, we don’t know yet if that will be possible for everybody.”

Turning to the rollout of the vaccination programme to 16 and 17 year olds, Dr Laidlaw said this group will soon be invited to receive their first dose, but it has not yet been decided by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) whether these teenagers would require a second dose for protection.

Dr Laidlaw said that as always it is a weighing up of risks – in this case potential side effects against the risk of possible serious illness from Covid – that informs the decision making process.

She said all of the recent cases recorded by the health board had mild or no symptoms at all.

The public health director added that lifting most restriction will likely result in more cases being recorded, but since most newly identified infections were less severe and unlikely to overwhelm the health service she was confident that Covid would become manageable.

“The one thing we don’t know is whether we will get new variants that are highly transmissible. That would cause problems and that’s what people are most concerned about as it may well cause a fourth wave,” Dr Laidlaw said.

“If that doesn’t happen then we will still have Covid around, and it will probably become what we call ‘endemic’ whereby it is around in the same way that flu is. It might be that this behaves in the same way and we might have to vaccinate people every year.

“But we don’t know that yet. And although it seems a long time [that Covid has been around], it is still not long enough to be able to understand if that’s what’s going to happen or not.”