Director of Public Health Matthew Ashton reflects on the toll Covid-19 has taken on Liverpool

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As the UK death toll sadly tops 100,000, Liverpool’s Covid-related deaths have now also risen to above 1,000.

That means on average, 1 in 5 people dying in our city are losing their lives as a result of Covid-related complications.

Behind the tragic statistics are relatives, friends and colleagues left devastated at the loss of someone taken too early.

There are several reasons why Liverpool is one of the hardest hit cities in the country.

We have a large proportion of residents with underlying health conditions, which leaves them particularly vulnerable to attack by the virus, such as lung or heart conditions.

And many of our residents live in small properties, meaning the virus spreads easily within their household as they are unable to self-isolate effectively.

But the true cost of coronavirus spreads far wider than the number of deaths.

We know that one in five people suffer from Long-Covid – with debilitating after-effects lasting weeks, months and maybe years afterwards.

The virus has stretched the NHS and its exhausted staff to breaking point, and has impacted on the ability of our brilliant frontline services to help and support other people for non covid related reasons

Our children’s education has been hugely disrupted, despite a massive effort from teachers to deliver remote learning.

Hundreds of businesses have gone to the wall, leaving thousands of people out of work, while many more firms teeter on the brink.

And we have all suffered mentally as a result of not being able to spend time with loved ones, friends and colleagues.

Amid the devastation, Liverpool has had some success in its battle with Covid-19.

We got the number of confirmed weekly cases as low as 14 last summer.

With the help of the local community, we successfully tackled an outbreak in Princes Park in August, in under 3 weeks.

And we led the way with our smart Covid testing pilot, which identified well over 1,000 people in Liverpool (over 4000 overall) who had the virus but weren’t aware as they didn’t have symptoms, enabling us to reopen hospitality and other businesses at the end of lockdown in December. Academics in the United States are now recommending a similar approach from President Biden’s new administration.

As we all face up to the daily grind of a third lockdown, many people are understandably asking: where do we go from here? 

The good news is that the rollout of the vaccine is being ramped up, but we need to get to a very high number of the population with two doses of the jab – around 80 per cent – before we can think about things getting back to anywhere approaching normal.

I am hopeful the restrictions on our everyday movements will begin to be lifted in the coming months, but they need to be done so gradually and with extreme care, so we don’t see the virus take off again.

Wearing face coverings when in confined spaces, such as out shopping, will be a way of life for some time to come.

And large group gatherings of the size and scale we remember pre-Covid, such as football matches and concerts, are a long way off.

There are also a large amount of unknowns, such as how the virus mutates and how that will affect transmission rate, treatments and the vaccine.

Ultimately we will have to learn to live with Covid in the long term, in the same way as we do with other transmissible viruses such as flu.

In the meantime, my plea to everyone is to continue following the rules – such as hands, face, space – to get virus levels as low as possible.  Get tested regularly if you have to leave the house for work or education, and accept the offer of the vaccine when your turn comes.

Otherwise the already grim statistics will just keep on getting grimmer.