Covid’s long-term impact on Peterborough starting to be pieced together

The long-term health impact of Covid on residents in Peterborough is starting to be pieced together.

Thursday, 29th April 2021, 4:01 pm

Data on a range of public health issues impacted by the pandemic are being analysed to assess what interventions will be needed in the future, according to the city’s outgoing director of public health.

Dr Liz Robin, (60), who retires on Friday, believes pre-existing challenges for Peterborough such as high levels of heart disease and diabetes, and large variances in life expectancy among different communities, will continue going forward, but she said the true picture will only emerge over the coming months.

She told the Peterborough Telegraph: “We need to really gather the info that we can. We have hard data and soft intelligence from communities on issues of recovering from Covid, but we need evidence from children not being to school or nursery, the impact on mental health from lockdown, the impact of bereavement for some people, and also the economic impact which impacts health inequalities.

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Dr Liz Robin

“Also, people putting on weight, drinking more, or if they stopped smoking.

“There is a lot of preliminary information and we need to pull it all together.

“My feeling is we had issues in Peterborough pre-Covid - heart disease, diabetes, high rates of smoking, large differences between life expectancy and opportunities in some communities - which will still be there.

“Covid problems will cross over a lot particular inequalities.”

Dr Robin - who described her job as a “great privilege” - said the only comparable to the Covid crisis was the early days of swine flu in 2009, although that ended up being “much less long-lived and, in reality, less serious”.

Despite this she declined to overstate her role in helping Peterborough and Cambridgeshire (where she is also responsible for public health) to tackle the pandemic, instead praising the efforts of her colleagues, both councils and communities in meeting an unprecedented challenge.

“It’s been very busy, but for lots of people,” she said.

“It’s been toughest for some of our residents who have experienced bereavements, difficulties financially, jobs closing down. I’ve been busy but had great support.

“The most difficult time was right at start of the pandemic because we knew so little. In public health we like to work on evidence.

“The beginning of the pandemic was so much different to now. We didn’t know what the right interventions were, but you can always go back to the public health principles. If the virus is passed through transmission you can stop people meeting.

“We were pushing basic messages to as many people as possible. As things progressed biomedicine came in with vaccines, testing and treatments and our toolbox and knowledge of the virus has improved. That makes it more like other diseases and we can see it moving from pandemic to endemic in the longer term.”

While the vaccine roll-out has seen hospitalisations and deaths drastically reduce, Dr Robin sounded caution with Peterborough still seeing higher rates of Covid cases than across the country, which links back to the nature of employment in the city.

“It’s clearly good to see that the Covid rates in Peterborough have gone down,” Dr Robin added. “It’s slower than rest of the country, but they have continued with that gradual fall. But they’re still almost twice the national average so we still have issues with enduring transmission.

“Covid not gone away from Peterborough, but local residents have done a great job in bringing rates down.

“Our toolkbox to deal with Covid is much better than it used to be but it’s really important not to be complacent and recognise we are part way through a process.

“Other measures such as social distancing and following the restrictions in the roadmap are really important.

“The other thing we’re trying to encourage is people without symptoms taking a rapid test twice a week so it’s a bit like brushing your teeth. That will really help to bring the rates down.

“And if you have symptoms isolate. We need to keep at it until we get Covid more under control.”