FACE masks, social distancing rules and visiting restrictions will remain in place in hospitals in Oxfordshire – despite the national celebration of the so-called Freedom Day.

Oxfordshire NHS leaders confirmed that there will be no immediate changes to the current Covid-19-secure arrangements in healthcare settings from Monday when restrictions are eased elsewhere.

This means all staff, patients and visitors must continue to follow guidelines, including wearing a face covering and complying with social distancing and hand hygiene guidance as before.

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Most notably, visiting restrictions will also remain in place even if people have received both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine.

Dr Karl Marlowe, chief medical officer for Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, pointed out that the evidence clearly shows that Covid-19 infections rates in Oxfordshire are a 'great cause for concern' and that health services must continue to exercise extreme caution.

He added: "We have a duty of care to do all that we can to keep our patients, service users and staff as safe as possible.

"In our community hospitals, mental health wards and in the community, our clinical teams are caring for people with complex conditions that make them vulnerable to infection".

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Apart from protecting patients and staff, the restrictions are also aimed at reducing the number of healthcare workers having to self-isolate because they have been in contact with someone with the virus, which can lead to workforce shortages and appointments or planned operations being postponed.

The NHS in the county is asking patients and the public, whether or not they are vaccinated, to obey these rules in their buildings.

These include wearing a mask at all times, unless exempt, hand hygiene, maintaining two-metres distancing, keeping left in corridors, adhering to the signs showing the maximum number of people in a room or a lift, not using seats that are taped off and observing visiting rules.

Professor Meghana Pandit, chief medical officer at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, explained why the restrictions will not be changing in the near future: "In our hospitals we care for the sickest and most vulnerable patients, and we must do everything possible to keep them safe.

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"Even if you have had two vaccinations, you can still carry and pass on the virus to others.

"We are therefore asking visitors and patients coming to our hospitals to continue to follow the guidelines, wear a face covering, follow social distancing guidance and use good hand hygiene.

"When someone brings a community acquired Covid-19 infection into the hospital, they could affect other patients, visitors and our staff.

"For some of our patients a Covid-19 infection could be fatal, or severely delay their treatment for other diseases/procedures."