Play by the rules and keep us on track - residents urged to stay vigilant, get tested regularly and continue social distancing

Essex residents are being urged play their part in keeping the roadmap for the relaxation of lockdown restrictions on track in the coming weeks and months.

Keeping to the social distancing rules and getting tested regularly is more important than ever particularly as lockdown restrictions continue to ease next week, and will also reduce the chance of a third wave of Covid-19.

From Monday 29 March, outdoor gatherings (including in private gardens) of either six people or two households will be allowed, making it easier for friends and families to meet outside. It is one of several key milestones planned for the coming weeks and months, as part of the roadmap to recovery from the pandemic. The government has emphasised that each step in the easing of restrictions will only be possible if case numbers remain low.

By keeping a minimum distance of two metres between yourself and another person, wearing a face covering where possible and regularly washing your hands, the risk of spreading the virus is greatly reduced.

Taking these precautionary measures is vital even for those who have received the Covid-19 vaccination.

Getting into the habit of regular testing will help stop the spread across the County. Home testing kits are available for households or bubbles with school-age children to order online or collect. All residents are also able to visit one of 12 Lateral Flow Testing centres located in each district of the County.

Dr Mike Gogarty, Essex County Council's Director of Public Health, said: "As restrictions begin to be relaxed and people start to socialise again with others, it might feel like the threat of Covid-19 is lessening and that we don't need to follow government advice as strictly. However, this is sadly not the case.

"There are still many unknowns about new variants of Covid-19 and they may be less vulnerable to the vaccine. The best way to prevent new variants developing is to keep cases low. Therefore, it is crucial that as restrictions are eased, everyone continues to follow appropriate social distancing guidelines, wearing face coverings and washing hands often.

"We are already beginning to see infection rates levelling off, following a strong decline in numbers. The actions we take as individuals over the weeks to come will make a difference in preventing another significant rise in cases. As restrictions ease, cases will inevitably rise and therefore we are urging people to be as careful as possible and not risk losing the freedoms we are all looking forward to enjoying again.

"With multiple testing routes available, getting tested regularly is a simple habit to form and it will help to stop the spread enormously. And if you are positive and need to self-isolate, there is financial support available. From 29 March, if you are planning to meet with people outside your bubble or household, we urge you to take a lateral flow test before you do so. 

"Keeping a two metre distance of those outside of your household will also prevent the risk of being identified as a close contact by Test and Trace and reduce the need for self-isolation."

The second step out of lockdown, planned for 12 April, will see all non-essential shops open. Pubs and restaurants will be able to serve food and drink outside from this date. However, the government has said that each step will be assessed before restrictions are lifted. The decision on each stage will be based on data which will inform how and when other services and organisations can resume operation.

24 March 2021