Mask-wearing and social distancing 'still vital' in the NHS despite end of Plan B Covid-19 rules; NHS bosses have urged the public to still mask-up, social distance and wash their hands in healthcare settings to protect medical staff and patients from Omicron.

Byline: By, Sam Volpe

North East NHS bosses have reminded the public that Plan B rules ending doesn't mean masks and social distancing don't remain essential to preventing the dominant Omicron Covid-19 variant from spreading in hospitals and other healthcare settings.

More than 1,000 people still have Covid-19 in hospitals around the North East and North Cumbria region -and top medics have spoken of how important it still is to follow precautions on wards, in pharmacies, GPs' practices, clinics and on patient transport.

Staff absence remains high too, though top medics think the impact of Omicron may have peaked. NHS figures explained around 9% of the health service's workforce was off sick on January 20 -and that half of that was made up of Covid-19 related absence.

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There are 1,039 Covid-positive patients in hospitals across the region. On January 11 the figure was 1,044. There are 27 confirmed patients in intensive care beds.

Dr Neil Halford interim medical director of the North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care System ICS said it continued to be a "busy and challenging time" and added: "While it looks like things are heading in the right direction we remain cautious.

"The number of patients in hospital with Covid-19 in the region remains broadly the same as it was this time last week, and is still higher than we would like.

"We have started to see a small decline in the number of staff absences which is encouraging, as well as seeing infection rates in the community also falling.

"While Plan B restrictions are being lifted, infection control measures across healthcare settings will remain in place. We would like to thank the public for their support and ask that they continue to wear a mask and wash their hands when visiting any healthcare setting."

On Wednesday, Health Secretary Sajid Javid claimed "Omicron is in retreat" as the Government announced an end to mask-wearing in schools and plans to end Plan B 's rules -including the work-from-home guidance and mandatory face-mask wearing.

He said it was vital people continued to obey visiting restrictions to keep staff and patients in hospitals safe, too.

This comes a day after Newcastle Hospitals NHS Trust assistant chief exec Caroline Docking...

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