Covid expert urges city not to ditch masks in face of winter wave

Shoppers out in force wearing masks in Norwich city centre. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Shoppers wearing face masks in Norwich city centre last summer - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020

A top scientist tracking Covid variants across the country is urging people to keep wearing masks in crowded and indoor spaces. 

Dr Andrew Page, head of informatics at Norwich's Quadram Institute, is one of the experts sequencing Covid samples from community testing and hospital patients.

The vital process takes place at just five specialist sites in England.

Dr Andrew Page, head of informatics at Quadram Institute in Norwich

Dr Andrew Page, head of informatics at Quadram Institute in Norwich - Credit: Dr Andrew Page

And as well as imploring the public to wear masks the expert is calling on the government to reintroduce contact tracing in schools and speed up the vaccination programme for 12 to15-year-olds to "put a lid on" rising cases.

The syringe is filled with the Covid-19 vaccine at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Pict

Children in England aged 12-15 can now get the Covid-19 vaccine - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020

Following calls from the NHS Confederation for the government to introduce restrictions to protect the organisation this winter amid a rise in cases, Dr Page said: "Norfolk cases are going up. I don't think people need to work from home but as matter of personal respect to others people should wear a mask in crowded spaces. It isn't an inconvenience."

He added: "The kids are the big drivers. If a child who is suspected to have it goes into school until they have tested positive they could be spreading it around for days. The vaccination roll out seems to be very slow. There are plenty of vaccines. They need to go into people's arms."

The Quadram Institute is looking at 2,000 cases a week from people in hospitals around England with the virus, though Dr Page said that although positive cases have risen deaths are low compared to earlier this year.

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He added that the majority of people dying from Covid were unvaccinated which was why he is keen on booster vaccines.

Dr Page said out of the 50,000 cases detected weekly by the five English labs, 6pc were caused by the emerging Delta variant known as AY.4.2.

Norwich Coronavirus testing.Quadram Institute LaboratoriesPhotography by Jason Byet: 07966 173

Dr Alex Totter working on Covid-19 samples at the Quadram Institute - Credit: Jason Bye

He believed it could be getting picked up more because of technology improvements adding: "It is probably not as scary as people think."

The scientist said: "I expect cases to go down over the winter because you cannot sustain this peak."

In Norwich the number of weekly cases per 100,000 people on the week beginning October 7 was 305.25 which increased to 401.61 the following week from October 14.

The number of positive Covid cases in the same weekly periods were 434 and 571.