People in Oxfordshire are being advised to continue taking the simple steps that they’ve 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 01 April.
Eligibility for free testing
The government has announced that some groups will continue to be eligible for free symptomatic and asymptomatic testing.
Free symptomatic testing will be available for:
- Patients in hospitals who require a test for clinical management or to support treatment pathways,
- People eligible for COVID-19 treatments because 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 if they have symptoms and will be given information on how to reorder tests), and
- 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.
It will also fund some regular asymptomatic testing for staff in adult social care services and hospices during high infection rate periods. 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 on protecting people most vulnerable to COVID-19, and it has set out its main objectives in its ‘Living with COVID-19’ publication.
Guidance about living safely with respiratory infections, including COVID-19, is provided on the gov.uk website.
Ansaf Azhar, Director for Public Health at Oxfordshire County Council, 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 the 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 the 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.”