Cambridge: Please keep wearing your masks...
The Cambridge Independent is calling on our readers to continue wearing a face mask or covering on public transport and in shops to help protect others.
Numbers of Covid-19 cases are rising fast across the county, and particularly in the city. But the government announced this week that mandatory mask-wearing and social distancing are due to be lifted from July 19.
Cambridge has the lowest vaccination rates in the East of England and, depending on which population figure is used, is in the lowest 10 or 20 areas for the take-up of jabs in the country.
According to government data, some 432 people had a confirmed positive test result in the city between June 29 and July 5. That’s around 350 per 100,000 people.
Cambridge City Council leader Cllr Lewis Herbert is backing our call and encouraging people to continue with the simple measure of wearing masks:
“With cases again unacceptably high in Cambridge at over 300, now is definitely not the time to stop wearing masks in public indoor environments like shops, or while entering pubs and restaurants, or in busy outdoor queues or overcrowded places.
“Along with getting vaccinated, face coverings protect the people around you and cut their and your risk of joining the one million with long Covid or over 128,000 who have died.”
Having examined the scientific evidence, including from University of Cambridge researchers, which showed face masks are effective at reducing tranmission of the virus, the Cambridge Independent first called for masks to be mandatory in April 2020, well before the UK government made it so weeks later on July 24, after the World Health Organisation finally changed its advice.
Cllr Herbert added: “I supported the Cambridge Independent campaign back in May and June 2020 for masks at a time when Boris Johnson derided them, despite hundreds of deaths every day, and nothing’s changed. Please continue to wear masks in the places you do now. Do your bit to avoid Cambridge have even worse Covid problems this autumn, and persuade everyone you know to grab a jab too.”
Cambridge’s Labour MP Daniel Zeichner added: “I think this is more about the Prime Minister and the health secretary wanting headlines than about following the science. Of course we all want to get back to a more normal life as soon as it’s safe to do so.
“But we are seeing some worrying rises in Covid case numbers in Cambridge. So I would back a more gradual approach, including keeping mask wearing on public transport and in shops, and crucially proper payments for those that need to self-isolate.”
To drive up vaccination rates, a host of walk-in vaccination clinics are running in the city and beyond, helping people to get their first or second Covid-19 vaccination without an appointment.
Latest figures show cases are rising fast across the county, with Cambridge worst hit. Its 437 infections was 206 up on the previous week. Many of the cases are among those aged 18-30, including students, who have only recently had access to the vaccines.
Central and West Cambridge had 134 cases, reflecting the student population there. The University of Cambridge testing programme identified 122 students and staff with the virus between June 28 and July 4.
Schools, too, are feeling its impact, with more pupils having to isolate.
Cambridge University Hospitals, where masks will remain mandatory, said it was seeing “an increasing number of Covid patients in the last few weeks, particularly school and university students”. It added: “They are younger, with less severe symptoms and require a shorter hospital stay.”
The Prime Minister indicated on Monday that the public will be advised to use its judgment over when to wear masks after July 19.
There was acknowledgement at a Downing Street press conference that Covid-19 deaths would continue to rise – but at a much lower level than before the vaccination programme.
Mr Johnson acknowledged the pandemic was “far from over”, with cases rising “fairly rapidly”.
“There could be 50,000 cases detected per day by the 19th,” he said.
He added: “We have to balance the risks. The risks of the disease which the vaccines have reduced but very far from eliminated and the risks of continuing with legally-enforced restrictions that inevitably take their toll on people’s lives and livelihoods, on people’s health and mental health.
“We must be honest with ourselves that if we can’t reopen our society in the next few weeks, when we will be helped by the arrival of summer and by the school holidays, then we must ask ourselves: when will we be able to return to normal?”
Health secretary Sajid Javid said on Tuesday that the figure could be 100,000 cases per day once restrictions are relaxed.
Software developer Rachel Coleman, a cancer survivor from Cambridge, tweeted: “I’m so angry; the current wave of cases was avoidable by delaying Step 3, but no. Mask rules on public transport/indoors protect everyone, like smoking bans protect everyone, but we’re not getting that either. Leaving masks/distancing/ventilation up to ‘personal responsibility’ puts my unvaccinated children at risk from every irresponsible person in an indoor space with them. So we’ll end up living more restricted lives than before, out of self-defence.”
Jyoti Atri, director of public health for Cambridgeshire, said: “Covid-19 rates are rising across the country and what we are seeing in Cambridge and parts of Cambridgeshire is very similar, in that the Delta variant, which we know to be much easier to pass on, is accounting for the rise in cases.
“There is no room for complacency and any sharp increase is always a cause for concern. We all need to play our part and remember that now is not the time to let our guard down. That means getting vaccinated – both doses – which is the single biggest thing you can do to help us fight Covid. And we need everyone to rapid test twice a week, to track the one in three people with Covid who don’t know they’ve got it and could be spreading it unknowingly. It is also important to continue to follow preventive measures such as keeping our distance, meeting outdoors as far as possible, wearing masks and handwashing.”