PEOPLE in Oxfordshire are being warned not to take risks and relax in the fight against Covid-19 despite the success of vaccinations locally.

Across the UK more than 16 million people in the top four priority groups have now received their first jab.

In Oxfordshire, over-65s and people aged 16-65 with an underlying health condition are now being invited to have the vaccine, together with a small number of other groups including adult carers.

However, everyone is encouraged to bear in mind that the 'hands-face-space' guidance is important even after they have been given the vaccine.

Ansaf Azhar, Oxfordshire County Council’s director for public health, commented: "It is great news that the first dose of the vaccine has been given to so many people in such a short space of time.

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"However, there is still a long way to go in the vaccination programme and we are keen that those who have now been inoculated are aware that the benefits do not kick in until around three weeks after the jab has been administered.

"Earlier this week we heard the Prime Minister, Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Simon Stevens urge continued caution looking ahead and I would wish to reflect that locally.

"Surely the last thing anybody would want to do is have their jab, drop their guard and end up catching Covid-19 before the vaccine has a chance to do its job."

Government figures show that the number of people with Covid-19 in Oxfordshire has declined again this week and the county's weekly rate has now fallen to below 100 per 100,000 for the first time since early December.

But Mr Azhar pointed out that the virus is still 'very active' in the county.

He added: "We await the Government’s decisions on a roadmap out of lockdown but we know it will be cautious.

"It is clear that we will not return to 2019 and before in one leap.

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"We have seen before what happens when we relax too soon.

"The virus makes a rapid comeback and we end up in a frustrating one-step-forward two-steps back routine.

" Let us see how much further we can drive down the levels of Covid-19 in Oxfordshire before lockdown ends.

"The lower it is, the better for all of us in both the short-term and the long-term.

Oxfordshire County Council director of public health Ansaf Azhar. Picture: Oxfordshire County Council

Oxfordshire County Council director of public health Ansaf Azhar. Picture: Oxfordshire County Council

"We can only drive the virus into the margins by sticking to the disciplines that have lowered the numbers since midwinter."

Mr Azhar urged people to 'do their bit' and those who are showing symptoms – including a high temperature, a new continuous cough, or a loss or change to sense of smell or taste – to get a test.

He added that there is plenty of capacity at testing centres across the county and people will be dealt with quickly and efficiently.

The overall number of cases per 100,000 people in Oxfordshire in the week ending February 12 was 80.5 compared to 134.6 per 100,000 the week before.

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The breakdown by district reads as follows:

l Cherwell: 82.4 cases per 100,000 people

l Oxford: 105.6 cases per 100,000 people

l South Oxfordshire: 81.7 cases per 100,000 people

l Vale of White Horse: 65.4 cases per 100,000 people

l West Oxfordshire: 60.6 cases per 100,000 people

In Monday's press conference from Downing Street, Boris Johnson hailed the 'astonishing efforts' of everyone involved in the delivery of jabs after the Government met its target of offering a first dose to 15 million of the most vulnerable people.

The Prime Minister also insisted that now is 'no moment to relax' in the fight against the virus as he admitted that while he wanted this to be the country's final lockdown, he could not guarantee it.

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He urged Britons to stick with the current restrictions as he looked ahead to revealing a roadmap out of lockdown on Monday.

The PM said: "Although the vaccination programme is going well, we still do not have enough data about the exact effectiveness of the vaccines in reducing the spread of infection.

"I am very hopeful that we will be able to go ahead and open things up, but to say I can give an absolute cast iron guarantee that we will not face further difficulties and have to think harder and deeper about some problems, no at this stage I cannot."

Professor Chris Whitty, England's chief medical officer, who also spoke at the 5pm conference said that the Covid-19 rates were 'definitely heading in the right direction'.

However, he highlighted that there are still more people currently in hospital with the virus than at the peak of last spring's first wave of infections.

As of last Saturday, there were still nearly 12,000 patients admitted to hospital with the virus.

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