Leeds health experts warn Covid safety should be balanced against need for other treatments
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One prominent GP in Leeds also said he feared some people may never be convinced to take a Covid vaccination, even though it could be crucial to ensuring their safety.
Leeds City Council's most senior health expert, meanwhile, has warned that indirect effects of the pandemic, such as mental health and heart problems, must also now take focus.
It comes exactly two years since Leeds saw its first Covid 19 death, when a patient in her 80s died after being admitted to hospital.
Dr Amal Paul is a GP and clinical director of one of the city's primary care networks. He believes that while Covid in its current state is not as dangerous as it once was, people in Leeds are still going to have to learn to live with it.
"Covid has not gone," he said. "It is still here, but the intensity of the virus has possibly gone down - we don't know if new variants may come and cause havoc.
"But at the moment, most of the infections, particularly Omicron, are often mild and over within a couple of days.
"They are saying that there are still fatalities and people are dying from Omicron infections, so it is hit and miss, but overall the Omicron variant is less virulent and there is a low incidence of hospital admission.
"Maybe we have to learn to live with Covid in the long run."
Dr Paul believes vaccinations are still the key to keeping people safe from the virus, but warned more vulnerable groups still needed to
"If we look at the uptake in the most difficult groups, it has not significantly improved.
"Still there are lots of people who have not had vaccinations, either from disinformation or whatever you say, they are still not coming forward. The system tries its best, but still they're not coming forward. We need to work smarter with this group to get them vaccinated, but maybe we have to accept there is a group of people that still will not accept vaccinations."
Leeds City Council executive member for public health and active lifestyles Coun Salma Arif (Lab) said: “As we reach this sobering and very sad milestone, it is important to take a moment to remember and reflect that over 2,000 people have died of or with with Covid in two years.
"As our response to the pandemic changes to living safely with Covid-19, we need to continue to be vigilant, ensuring robust surveillance and outbreak management processes are in place and working closely with local and national health partners. It is also critical that we help to develop confidence in our communities to return to working and socialising differently and safely. It is understandable that many people, particularly those with existing health conditions, may feel vulnerable and find the new changes a difficult adjustment."
Leeds City Council's director of public health, Victoria Eaton, said that the city must be able to balance the risks of covid with the urgent need to address further problems caused by the disease.
She said: “Moving forward the emphasis will be on learning to live with Covid, balancing the relative risk of Covid infection in a population with high levels of immunity from vaccination and natural infection, with the need to address deepening public health challenges including mental health illness and cardiovascular disease.
"The effectiveness of the vaccine programme has greatly reduced the direct impact on hospitalisations and deaths. Over time we can expect further waves of transmission because of waning immunity and the emergence of new variants. Living safely with Covid-19 will mean a sensible path of working with communities to adopt safe behaviours, achieve high levels of vaccination whilst maintaining capability to scale up a rapid response if required. The local Leeds position will continue to be closely monitored working with all partners, and our thoughts remain with everyone who has been impacted by Covid-19 and an appreciation of all of our healthcare and key workers for their ongoing efforts."
Healthwatch Leeds is an independent watchdog which monitors the performance of health services in the district. Its CEO Hannah Davies agrees that while the virus is far less severe in most sufferers than it once was, healthcare services should not become complacent.
She said: “The situation with covid has changed with the risk of serious illness lower for most people, but we still need to protect those at risk and make sure they are supported with the booster programmes.
"Also we shouldn’t put off seeking support from our GP if we have any health concerns."