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Social distancing restrictions aren’t over – Leeds health chief’s stark Covid-19 warning

Leeds’s most senior public health chief has warned against thinking the social distancing restrictions are over, following recent announcements from the government, writes Richard Beecham.

Leeds City Council’s director of public health warned services were expecting new cases of Covid-19 throughout the autumn, and called on people in the city to continue two-metre social distancing wherever possible to stop the spread.

It follows an announcement this week from the government that pubs, hairdressers and restaurants could reopen from early July, while the two-metre social distancing requirement has been reduced to “one metre plus”.

But Victoria Eaton, who is responsible for Leeds City Council’s health and care services, believes there is a danger that many people may see the changes as an indication that social distancing is over.

Speaking at an online press conference, she said:

“As the measures come through it becomes even more important that we can swiftly manage any local outbreaks.

“We feel in a really strong place as a city because we have a good track record of outbreaks when they happen. We are not complacent about the challenges ahead – we need to be ready for new cases in the autumn and winter.

“It’s a key question at the moment. It’s really important that as the measures were announced yesterday, it is my understanding that there will be no more announcements on measures for a while – this was the big announcement.

“It is really important that we need to be clear that the decisions announced yesterday are not seen as the end of social distancing – I think there is a real danger of that.

“There is a clear message that it is not a case of ‘anything goes’ now we open other sectors.”

She went on to add previous social distancing rules would still apply wherever possible, adding: 

“There are three messages that we are going to stress locally – two metre distancing still applies where possible – It’s not that two metres is out, it only applies where the setting allows it.

“Where that is not possible, it is one metre plus, and where two metres isn’t possible, you should use other ways to stop the spread.”

Where two-metre distancing is not possible, individuals are recommend to wear face masks, standing side to side with someone rather than facing them, and for supermarkets and shops to use perspex screens to avoid the spread of the virus.

“This is the new social distancing that will allow us to open up, rather than the end of social distancing,” she added, “We need to get the message across for people to do the right thing, because there are people who are still very vulnerable to the virus.”

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