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Covid-19 in Buckinghamshire

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Martin Tett

Below is an update on the Covid-19 situation from Martin Tett, Leader of Buckinghamshire Council

A lot has changed since I last wrote to you, so I want to use this update to go through the new information, aiming to make it all as clear, simple, and useful as possible.

We are all aware from the reports that nationally there has been a significant increase in the number of identified COVID infections. We all want to give ourselves the best possible chance of keeping the virus under control here in Buckinghamshire. If we all follow the new rules, we have a better chance of being able to keep Bucks open. It means less risk to our own health, and crucially, less risk to more vulnerable friends, relatives and neighbours. We really are all in this together and we all have our part to play in the continuing fight against the virus.

The situation in Buckinghamshire:
Cases of coronavirus are rising across the UK as a whole, and that's what's beginning to happen here in Buckinghamshire too. However, I do want to stress that at the moment, we are still in a better position here than in some other parts of the country.

The infection rate can vary from week to week and we have seen the number of weekly cases in Buckinghamshire increase from 8.5 to 12.7 per 100,000 people in the space of a fortnight. The very latest figures for Buckinghamshire suggest the rates have risen even further in recent days, to about 14.4 cases per 100,000 people. So although there have been recent reports in the newspapers saying the Buckinghamshire rates have dropped, the overall trend is that in fact, cases are increasing here.

Whilst we have fewer new cases than in other places, we cannot afford to be complacent, especially at this crucial time in the pandemic in the UK. The threat from coronavirus remains very real, with some areas close to Buckinghamshire experiencing significant outbreaks.

You can see the latest data on Buckinghamshire cases on our website.

The rule of six:
It is now against the law in England to meet socially in a group of more than six people from different households. This applies both inside and outside your house, and this new law will be enforced by the police. There are some exemptions to this, such as children's playgroups, some organised sports and events like weddings and funerals. If you attend clubs such as a sewing club or similar, you must gather in groups of six and not allow the groups to mingle, also social distancing at all times from anyone you don't live with.

The full list of exemptions and all the detail you need about the rule of six is here on the government's website. Please do follow this rule which has been introduced to try to curb the increase in cases.

The new NHS COVID-19 app:
The new NHS COVID-19 app will launch on Thursday 24 September. Downloading this app means you'll be able to tell if you've been in close contact with any other user who's tested positive for coronavirus. You will also be able to report symptoms, book a test and use the app to book into venues you visit, like pubs and restaurants, using a QR code.

Importantly, you can use the app anonymously. Nobody, including the government, will know who, or where, a particular user is. The app is designed to track the virus, not the user.

I really hope this app will significantly strengthen our ability to fight the virus; the more people who use it, the more it will help us all. Using this app will help reduce your personal risk, by alerting you early to cases near you, and it will help reduce the overall risk to the public by helping to track the virus more easily. It will also help you assess any symptoms you have to identify whether you need to book a test.

You can find out more about the app at: www.covid19.nhs.uk

Young people:
In Buckinghamshire, our recent localised outbreaks have been amongst groups of young people, so I would like to especially appeal to people of this age and their parents. I'm proud that our younger population in Buckinghamshire is mature and responsible but there is a minority who have not followed the social distancing guidance, and I really want to appeal to you to act responsibly and to follow the rules.

Please, stick to the rule of six and maintain social distancing if you're meeting up with friends. It puts us all at risk if you don't, and whilst most young people don't suffer with the illness as much as others, if the virus is spread into the older community then we will see our more vulnerable residents being put at risk. Please do your bit and help protect yourselves and others.

When to book a test:
Please only try to book a coronavirus test if you have any of the main symptoms of the illness. These are: a new continuous cough, a fever or a change in your sense of taste and/or smell.

The booking system is run nationally by the Department of Health and Social Care and we know that there have been recent problems with reports of people being sent long distances for their test. This is largely due to lack of sufficient capacity at laboratories to process the results of the tests. If you need to book a test and are sent to a location not easily reached, or find no tests are available, then please wait and then try again.

We do have a number of testing units in Buckinghamshire this week. In Aylesbury at the start of the week, Buckingham at the end of the week and High Wycombe throughout. It's best to book a test as soon as you get symptoms and you will either be sent a home testing kit or directed to the nearest available site at the time. All tests must be pre-booked and you cannot just drop into a testing site — this includes what was previously a walk-in centre in Slough, which is now booking only.

To book a test, go to the NHS website or call 119. From Thursday 24 September you will be able to book a test via the new NHS COVID-19 app.

What to do if you have coronavirus symptoms:
If you or anyone you live with develops coronavirus symptoms, you must immediately self-isolate the household and book a test as soon as possible for anyone with symptoms. This means staying at home and not letting anyone else come to your house. You should try to organise shopping deliveries for the period you're isolating. It means you mustn't send your children to school. Please do not send your child to school if they have any symptoms of coronavirus or are awaiting test results.

If the person or people in the household who had symptoms get a negative result, you can all resume activities as usual, within the current guidelines. The whole household has to stay isolated if anyone tests positive or is still waiting for their result. I really hope this clarifies precisely what we are all supposed to do, should we get any coronavirus symptoms.

Remember the basics:
This is possibly the most important advice of all that I can give you. We can all stop the virus spreading by doing these three simple things:

WASH HANDS, COVER FACE, MAKE SPACE

Wash your hands thoroughly, regularly and for at least 20 seconds
Wear a face covering in all areas required, like on public transport and in shops
Keep a distance of at least 2 metres (6ft) from anyone you don't live with, or 1 metre with extra measures in place if social distancing is harder

You can watch a short film about these guidelines on the government's website, and get information on where you must wear a face covering. You can also get a voluntary card to show you're exempt from using a face covering if you wish to, via this link.

HELPING CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE COPE

Over half of parents say their children's mental wellbeing has been one of their biggest worries during COVID. As a group, young people are currently reporting higher levels of anxiety than the adult population.

Public Health England's new mental health campaign supports children, young people and their parents. To find mental health support for the children and young people in your life, take a look at the Every Mind Matters website.

We're recognising our heroes
While unfortunately, the pandemic is far from over, we still want to take time to recognise the people in our communities who've gone above and beyond these last few months. You can nominate either a person or organisation in our 'Proud of Bucks' awards, sponsored by the Clare Foundation.
So take a look at the categories and nominate your hero here:

https://www.buckscc.gov.uk/services/community/proud-of-bucks-awards/?dm_i=5438,98NV,U3PS3,113RU,1

As ever, stay safe and protect Bucks,

Martin Tett
Leader of Buckinghamshire Council