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Sunday, 16 January 2022
GP SURGERIES could be asked to continue offering coronavirus vaccines until January.
This follows the discovery of a new variant, known as Omicron, which has already led to the mandatory return of masks in shops and on public transport.
The booster vaccine programme is to be speeded up and extended.
The Hart Surgery in Henley administered its last coronavirus jab last week.
The surgery, together with the neighbouring Bell Surgery, Nettlebed Surgery and Sonning Common health centre, opted out of the vaccination programme at the end of November.
On the last day, volunteers and staff toasted the occasion and the fact the surgeries had administered more than 50,000 doses between them.
But on Tuesday evening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that given the fears surrounding Omicron, he planned to offer booster jabs to all adults by the end of January.
He said that it was likely that the boosters would increase protection against severe disease from the new variant even if effectiveness against infection was reduced.
Mr Johnson said that booster jabs would be rolled out at 1,500 community pharmacies, extra hospital hubs and pop-up vaccination sites across the country, with about 400 military personnel providing assistance alongside volunteers.
The hospital hubs will be asked to offer jabs to the public as well as NHS staff.
Sarah Moberly, practice manager at the Hart Surgery, said: “After the announcement, we are definitely considering restarting the vaccine programme, although we haven’t made a final decision yet.
“The challenge is to do so while continuing to deliver core GP services, the demand for which increases significantly during the winter months and not burn out our staff with an unsustainable workload.”
Sally Clark, of the Bell Surgery, said: “We have been delighted to play an integral part in the successful vaccination rollout while continuing to deliver broader patient care.
“We have received exceptionally positive feedback from our patients.
“However, this could not have been achieved without the amazing flexibility and resilience of our staff and our brilliant and very long list of volunteers who have been essential to our very efficient vaccine clinics.”
To date, 22 cases of the Omicron variant have been confirmed in the UK.
The UK, together with the European Union and India, are among those announcing stricter border controls as scientists carry out tests to determine if the mutation is more transmissible or infectious than other variants, or is resistant to vaccines.
Oxford University said there was no evidence the current vaccines would not prevent severe disease from Omicron but that it was ready to rapidly develop an updated version of the AstraZeneca vaccione if necessary.
Since Tuesday, people in England must wear face coverings in shops and on buses, trains, taxis and aeroplanes.
Patrick Brown, who runs FourState in Duke Street, Henley, which sells eco-friendly, sustainable and ethical products, said 90 per cent of his customers had gone back to wearing face coverings.
He said: “I think most people get why it’s important to wear one and realise it’s not too big of a problem.
“Our staff also wear face masks when there are customers in the shop.
“We had a quiet day on Tuesday but it’s tricky to tell if it was because of the new restrictions. Most people have been telling me they are grateful shops are still open.”
Monica Alazraki, who manages the Daisy Love coffee shop on the corner of Station Road and Reading Road, has put up a sign in the shop’s window asking customers to wear masks.
She said: “Since we are in the hospitality business, we can’t really enforce it but I would say 80 per cent of our customers have been wearing masks as they came in.
“They seem to care and understand why it’s important to do so. Our staff will be wearing them at all times.”
Eva Rickett, who owns Henley Scan in Reading Road with her husband Graham, said: “We had a couple of people who forgot them as they came into the shop but we always keep a few spare ones.
“Because of the work we do, we don’t have a lot of people in the shop at the same time so I think that really helps. We also offer doorstep drop-off so that customers don’t have to come in if they don’t want to and feel safer that way.”
Andrew Latham-Brash, who runs the Head Gardener Henley’s Premier Barbershop in Market Place, said: “I’ve been wearing a mask in the shop all the time over the past few months so it doesn’t change a lot for me in that respect.
“All my customers have come in with masks on so far so I’ve not had any issues. I think it’s too early to tell if people don’t feel confident coming because of the new rule.”
Karole Robertson, who owns Naughty Mutt Nice, a dog grooming parlour in Reading Road, said: “We haven’t put signs up yet but it’s something we will be looking into because not all our customers are wearing masks as they come in.
“It’s hard to enforce it but we definitely want to do more to make sure they do wear one inside the shop.
“All my staff are wearing masks both in the grooming room and in the shop and we feel it’s important for people to respect that.”
Claudia De Biasi, who runs the Cecilia Quinn shoe shop in Bell Street, said her customers and staff were complying with the new rules.
She said: “I think everyone has had enough of this virus and people just want to do what they can to protect each other. Other countries in Europe have never stopped wearing masks so I think it’s a good thing and everyone seems to be complying with the rules so far.”
Secondary school pupils are being “strongly advised” to wear masks in communal areas, as are staff and visitors at all schools and childcare settings.
Ansaf Azhar, Oxfordshire County Council’s director for public health, said: “We all remember that last Christmas was severely curtailed due to lockdown and restrictions. Luckily, we are in a different situation this year.
“However, we do now have a new variant to contend with as we head into winter. We want as many people as possible to have a covid-free festive period, which we all deserve after 2020. There are a number of ways we can do this.
“Firstly, get vaccinated, whether that’s your first or second dose or your booster jab. Increasing your levels of protection is particularly important at a time when we’re socialising much more. Everyone over 18 will be able to get a booster jab — keep an eye on when you are invited to get yours.
“Getting tested is also important because that means we avoid unwittingly taking covid into someone’s home while visiting friends and family during Christmas. Taking a test provides reassurance that we can socialise without spreading the virus.
“Another positive move is to let in fresh air when indoors. I know it’s colder now but even a little window open when gathering with others can help stop the virus from hanging around.
“Wearing a face covering in crowded spaces and washing your hands regularly also remain key. The more we moderate our behaviour during December, the more likely we are to stack the odds in our favour in terms of getting to Christmas covid-free.”
02 December 2021
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