Masks may still be needed after June 21, Leeds council chief claims

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People in Leeds may still have to wear masks after the Government’s final lifting of Covid-19 restrictions this summer, the city’s most senior civil servant has said.

Speaking at a press conference, Leeds City Council chief executive Tom Riordan added that while many aspects of day to day life may go back to normal after this summer, social distancing and the extra ventilation of buildings may still be needed to reduce the spread of further infection.

The council’s head of public health also warned against opening back up to regular life too quickly, instead suggesting a “slow and steady” lifting of restrictions.

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It follows a recent announcement from Prime Minister Boris Johnson that a target date of June 21 at the earliest had been set to remove final Covid-related restrictions on freedoms.

Leeds City Council chief executive Tom Riordan.Leeds City Council chief executive Tom Riordan.
Leeds City Council chief executive Tom Riordan.

When asked about what life would be like for the people of Leeds after the summer, Mr Riordan said: “It will be a mixture – and will be not exactly the same as before. The fundamentals of the city, economy and how people get around are still very strong.

“In many ways, there will be a lot of things that will be the same, but it will be a different summer, the more people can be outdoors doing what they enjoy, the better.

“The more we can take the good things that have come out about how we can be more kind to each other and be more neighbourly will be important – people’s mental health coming out of this pandemic will be a major issue.

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“There will be a lot of job losses – there have been already. There may still be mask wearing, there will be keeping a physical distance, particularly indoors and we need to think about ventilation of indoor spaces.

“The Government strategy is to live with the virus – it’s not to eliminate it. Washing your hands, keeping your distance and getting vaccinated.”

Officials also warned the rates of infection had not yet gone down as much as they had last summer, when lockdown restrictions were last eased by Government.

Victoria Eaton, the council’s director of public health, said: “The next few months is about how we lift some of those first restrictions, but still with levels of infection that are still pretty high – the rate at the moment is down to 165 per 100,000 – that is still 1,300 new cases a week in Leeds.

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“This is a really different situation than it was going into the lifting of restrictions last summer – our infection rate went down as low as four per 100,000.

“Despite all the optimism, we are going into this with higher rates and with nearly all of our cases being the new UK variant which is more contagious.

“There is a general message that we need to go slow and steady. We are not out of the woods yet, and there will be bumps along the road with this.

“It’s going to be more tricky to open things up if the rates don’t decrease.”