Sandwell health chiefs warn of 'dark, difficult winter'

Health chiefs have urged Sandwell residents to be cautious as they face a "dark, difficult winter" of rising Covid-19 infections.

Russells Hall Hospital in Dudley
Russells Hall Hospital in Dudley

After being hit hard by the winter wave of the pandemic, Sandwell has had one of the most significant drops in infections in the country.

The latest Government data shows that Sandwell currently has a weekly case rate of 364 per 100,000 population, which is significantly lower than both the West Midlands average of 444 and the English average of 410.

However, Sandwell's director of public health, Dr Lisa McNally, is urging residents to be cautious to prevent a surge in cases this winter.

Dr McNally said: "This is going to be a dark, difficult winter. We've been left to make our own decisions about what is right.

"Just because the government says you can do something, doesn't mean you should do it. Nowhere does it say that it's safe to not wear a mask, it just means the government won't force you to wear one."

The latest ONS survey of Covid-19 infection rates ranks Sandwell as having the lowest prevalence in the West Midlands, and Dr McNally is eager to thank the community for keeping infections low.

The public health director said: “After being hit hard in the second, winter wave the Sandwell community really rallied round and helped to promote Covid safety and vaccination uptake.

"We saw one of the fastest falls in infection rates in the country and we still have much lower levels of infection than the national and regional averages.

"I’m so gratefully to the voluntary sector groups, the faith settings and other community leaders that have played their part in achieving this.

“However, we have a really difficult winter ahead. As an economically deprived and urban area we are always vulnerable to pandemic. More people will die from Covid-19 over the next few months.

"So, let’s do all we can to avoid ourselves, or someone we love, being one of them."

Dr McNally urges residents to keep their distance from other people, wear face coverings, and wash their hands regularly to stop the virus spreading.

She also recommends people have both Covid-19 vaccines, plus a third booster jab if they are eligible.

She added: "I am really anxious about anyone who hasn't had both jabs yet. The idea of anyone going into this winter without being vaccinated is terrifying."

Mel Roberts, the chief nursing officer for Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “We are expecting the next few months to be particularly challenging with the potential for a severe flu season, combined with increased Covid-19 transmission, long Covid and the usual winter illnesses circulating that we avoided last year due to lockdown restrictions.

"There are also patients whose treatment plans were regrettably disrupted due to Covid-19 that may need more care.

"We are working together with colleagues in primary care, public health and social care to have more support for people at home who may be at risk of becoming unwell so that we can avoid a hospital stay where possible."

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