SENT FROM DAN FLECKNOE – CONSULTANT IN PUBLIC HEALTH 7th June 2021
As you may have seen in the news, over the last week evidence has emerged that the SARS-CoV-2 variant Delta (formerly “India”) has overtaken “Alpha” (formerly “Kent”) to become the dominant form of COVID-19 both nationally and locally. This finding supports research evidence that Delta is significantly more infectious than Alpha, but importantly COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to still provide effective protection against it. In Buckinghamshire there has been a significant increase in COVID outbreaks in educational settings over the past 2 weeks, mostly caused by the Delta variant. Although no serious illness has been reportedly associated with these outbreaks, there are two major concerns resulting from this trend:
1. Secondary transmission from outbreaks among young and healthy people may go on to affect those more likely to become severely unwell (i.e. older family members), and
2. School/EYS outbreaks driven by a more infectious variant will lead to significant missed school time for a large number of children and young people who are identified as contacts of confirmed cases.
In view of this, I would recommend that:
• any planned loosening of in-school precautions should be delayed,
• bubbles should be maintained and kept as small as is practical,
• the whole school community should be reminded of the importance of practicing the principles of ‘hands, face, space, fresh air’ whenever possible.
• anyone who is eligible for COVID-19 vaccination but has not yet taken up the offer, or who has not taken up their second dose when invited, should be encouraged to do so ASAP,
• and – perhaps most importantly with a more easily transmissible variant – immediate self-isolation by the entire household when any person in the house develops possible COVID-19 symptoms or gets a positive LFD result must be strongly emphasised. There is some evidence that the Delta variant has a shorter incubation period (that is, people may become infectious more quickly after being infected), so if household members wait for PCR confirmation before self-isolating then they could already have unknowingly passed the infection on to non-household contacts and thereby turned a cluster into an outbreak.
I know that these will be unwelcome tidings at a time when we have all been looking forward to further easing of restrictions on June 21st and possibly a more normal end to the school year. Obviously I can’t say for sure what the national decision will be about how this new evidence affects the planned progress of the Roadmap, but I suspect that Step 4 may be delayed until a larger proportion of the adult population have been vaccinated. In the meantime, it is important that we do what we can locally to restrict or slow down the spread of this variant in schools/EYS in order to safeguard both the education and wellbeing of pupils, and the health of vulnerable individuals in our communities.
Consultant in Public Health
Adults and Health Directorate