How we can live safely with COVID as the pandemic moves the next phase

People in Oxfordshire are being advised to continue the simple steps that they have taken during the pandemic to help us live safely with the virus as testing ends and the UK moves into the next phase of its COVID response. 

COVID cases across the nation and in Oxfordshire rose significantly during March and that rise is only now beginning to slow down. As such virus levels in the county are still high. Reported cases in the county currently stand at 927.4 per 100,000 people, with more than 6,400 cases reported over the seven days up to 1 April. 

Ansaf Azhar, Oxfordshire County Council’s Director for Public Health, said: “As society has continued to open up, COVID cases have risen throughout the country and Oxfordshire has followed that trend. It has largely been due to the BA.2 variant, a version of Omicron that’s more transmissible but isn’t leading to worse outcomes. However, it is causing significant challenges for hospitals and care homes and can still lead to severe outcomes for clinically vulnerable. 

“Free testing may have ended for the vast majority of people but that doesn’t mean we should let down our guard. If you are unwell, please stay at home if you can and avoid contact with others. You can also reduce your chance of becoming unwell and of passing the virus on to others by taking some tried and tested simple steps. These include ventilation of rooms, washing hands, and wearing masks in crowded settings. These behaviours help contain the spread of other respiratory illnesses too. 

“We continue to encourage everyone eligible for a vaccine to come forward and accept that offer. Those who are due a booster, a second or even a first vaccine should come forward, while over 75s are now able to book a fourth ‘spring’ booster.

“With the forthcoming Easter school break and bank holiday on the horizon it’s important to remember that COVID is still very much in circulation and we should do all we can to protect the most vulnerable in our society in particular.

“In summary we are asking people to continue to be cautious, be aware and be considerate.”

Eligibility for free testing

The government has announced that a number of groups will continue to be eligible for free symptomatic and asymptomatic testing.

2022.03.29_Response_GroupTesting_SocialMedia_1Free symptomatic testing will be available for:

  • Patients in hospital, who require a test for clinical management or to support treatment pathways.
  • People who are eligible for COVID-19 treatments as they are at higher risk of getting seriously ill from the virus. People in this group will be contacted directly and sent lateral flow tests to use if they have symptoms. They will also be given information on how to reorder tests.
  • Those who live or work in high-risk closed settings, for example in some NHS, social care and prison settings, where infection needs to be identified quickly to minimise outbreaks.
  • Those eligible will be informed about the new process by NHS England.

The Department of Health and Social Care  will continue to fund some asymptomatic testing in NHS services, during periods of higher levels of the virus, including for staff and patients. They will also fund some regular asymptomatic testing for staff in adult social care services and hospices during periods of high infection rates. Most visitors to adult social care settings, and visitors in the NHS, will no longer be required to take a test.

Living with COVID-19 guidance

 The government’s focus is now to protect people most vulnerable to COVID-19, with its main objectives set out in its 'Living with COVID-19' publication. Guidance about living safely with respiratory infections, including COVID-19, is provided on gov.uk.  

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