By Martin Tett - 25th February 2021 3:00pm
Most of you will have read about or heard the Prime Minister's announcement this week on the Government's 'roadmap' to easing the COVID-19 restrictions in the coming months.
I'm sure that for you, like me, it's a huge relief to see a way out of this situation and for us to finally be able to consider a return to more normal life later this year. Of course, as life has resoundingly taught us in the last 12 months, we cannot be 100% sure of anything so these plans will be guided by the data as we move forward.
I'm pleased to be able to let you know that we've also been able to stand down the 'Major Incident' that we declared back in December when our local health services were under severe strain. This week's decision reflects that we are no longer in a crisis situation although I must stress that we still have COVID-19 patients in our local hospitals. Also please do bear in mind that national infection rates are still far higher than when we began the last major unlocking process last year, and overall the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 nationally has very recently been around the same as at the height of the first wave last April.
For some the Government's 'roadmap' is too slow and cautious, for some too fast. I believe that on balance they have got it about right with cautious opening up, checked at each stage with the data. I for one am looking forward to seeing friends and relatives again this summer and doing some 'real shopping'.
Nevertheless, while we can look to the future with real hope, we all need to stick at it a bit longer to get the infection rates down further still. We've done a brilliant job of this here in Buckinghamshire since Christmas so let's keep going just that little bit longer.
The four steps to easing lockdown
We are continuing to digest the information released by the government which details the step by step approach to cautiously easing the lockdown. The Prime Minister has explained that the dates given are the earliest by which the measures will start, and that a gap is being left between each 'step' so that the impact of each phase can be fully assessed.
The steps will only progress if the government's four tests are being met, namely that; i) the vaccination programme is continuing successfully, ii) there is evidence to show the vaccine programme is reducing hospitalisations and deaths, iii) the infection rates are such that there's not a risk of a surge in demand on NHS services, iv) that no new variants cause enough concern to threaten this approach.
Step 1 March 8:
All schools and colleges fully reopen for face to face learning
Individuals can meet one other person outdoors including gardens for recreation eg a coffee and a chat, as well as for exercise
'Stay at Home' will continue to apply other than for essential reasons, which will include the above from this date
Maintain social distancing
- Stay at home lifted but minimise travel, no holidays
- Rule of six or two households for outdoor meeting
- Some outdoor sport and leisure can resume
- Organised outdoor sport allowed
- Work from home where possible
- Clinically Extremely Vulnerable are advised not to attend work, school or education until 31 March
Step 2 No earlier than 12 April and subject to four tests still being met:
- Indoor leisure including gyms to reopen
- Libraries and community centres to reopen
- All retail to reopen
- Work from home where possible
- Personal care such as nail bars and hairdressers to reopen
- Wedding guest numbers can increase from to 15
- Overnight stays/holidays allowed for single households only in self-contained accommodation
- Hospitality including pubs, cafes etc, can reopen for outdoor service only
- Minimise travel, no holidays abroad
Step 3 No earlier than 17 May and subject to four tests still being met
- Rule of six/two households can meet indoors (subject to review)
- 30 person limit outdoors
- Hotels and other accommodation can reopen, overnight stays permitted
- Work from home where possible
- Indoor hospitality, entertainment and attractions can open
- Weddings, funerals and other significant life events can take place for up to 30 guests
- Some large events can recommence
- International travel may resume, subject to review
Step 4 No earlier than 21 June and subject to four tests still being met:
- No legal limits on social contact or life events
- Nightclubs to reopen and large events to resume
These lists capture some of the main points in each step but if you want the full detail including the rationale for these measures please read the information in full on the Government's website. For now, everyone needs to continue to socially distance from anyone they don't live with. This advice will be reviewed and updated when it's possible to do so.
We are working hard with all our schools to ensure the safe return of all Buckinghamshire students to the classroom from 8 March, the first major step in this 'unlocking' process. Schools will communicate directly with parents and carers about the processes for each individual site and of course, all schools will continue to operate with COVID-safe measures in place. We await the full details of how regular testing for school students will work which is how we will help to keep students and teachers safe and to minimise outbreaks.
The vaccine roll out continues at pace here in Bucks and I remain extremely grateful to everyone involved in this magnificent effort. NHS staff and volunteers continue to work down the priority list here and 145,000 people in Buckinghamshire have now had a vaccination.
Please be aware that if you're in one of the top five priority groups you can now book your vaccine online yourself — you do not have to wait to be contacted. This means anyone in the following groups can book their vaccine online or call 119 to get an appointment:
- anyone aged 64 or over
- people who are clinically extremely vulnerable
- people who are at moderate risk from COVID-19 (clinically vulnerable)
- people who live or work in care homes
- all health and social care workers
- anyone who is eligible for Carer's Allowance
You can read more about the vaccination programme in Buckinghamshire on our website.
Rapid testing sites
If you have to leave your home to work or volunteer then please visit one of our rapid testing sites to get a COVID-19 test. We have four sites in the county, in Amersham, Aylesbury, Buckingham and Wycombe. You can find out more information including opening times on our website. You can book your test online at this link too or simply walk in at a time that suits you. I do urge you to get tested if you are having to leave home for these reasons as it will help us to keep families and communities safe and to drive down infection.
As I reminded you last time, these rapid tests are not for people who do have symptoms of COVID-19. If you have even very mild symptoms of COVID-19 then please book a test via the national system online or by calling 119. It's essential that you and everyone you live with isolates immediately. If you are on a low income and can't work from home while you're isolating you might qualify for a self-isolation payment of £500.
Please continue to stay safe and look after yourselves and each other.
Leader of Buckinghamshire Council