By Martin Tett, Buckinghamshire Council - 5th January 2021 8:24pm
Many of you will have watched the Prime Minister's televised address last night, when he announced that the whole country has again been placed into a full lockdown.
This means that we must all now stay at home, other than for a few specific reasons. It means that schools and colleges have switched to remote learning and that everyone should work from home if it's possible to do so. People who are Clinically Extremely Vulnerable have been advised to shield once again for this period.
This is really tough for everyone and I fully recognise that. Whether you're a vulnerable person worried about your health, someone who might be feeling more isolated or anxious, a working parent juggling home schooling or a business owner who's already faced months of severe challenges, this is hard on us all.
But, I want us all to hold onto the fact that we are not in the same place now as we were last March. We now have a vaccination programme which is underway and this means we can look to a much brighter future in the months ahead.
This programme is managed by the NHS, who decide when, where and to whom the vaccine is given. The council is actively assisting the NHS with project management and other logistical support. We already have three sites open providing vaccinations and a further two are opening tomorrow (Wednesday 6th January) in Chesham and High Wycombe.
Additional sites are then expected to open in other parts of the county in the next couple of weeks. This means we will then have facilities available covering the whole county. The wider roll out of the vaccine should begin to help to ease the burden on local NHS services.
Please wait to be contacted by the NHS as they will let you know when it's your turn to receive a vaccine and what you should do.
The current situation
As I wrote last week, prior to the new lockdown, we had already declared a 'Major Incident' due to the current pressures on our local health services. Sadly, we know that these additional restrictions are necessary as the NHS currently faces more pressure from COVID-19 than during the spring.
The new variant of the virus is easier to catch and as a result our local hospitals are treating more COVID-19 patients now than at any other time during the pandemic. Our local case rate is around 1000 cases per 100,000 people in some parts of the county. You can see the latest figures for Buckinghamshire on our COVID dashboard and the number of new cases in the area you live in via the Government's website.
While most people who get COVID will recover at home, hospital admissions are continuing to rise, and while the majority of patients are in the older age groups, there are younger people also currently seriously ill with COVID-19 in Buckinghamshire. While we can look to the future with far more hope, at the moment the current situation is grave and we must all follow the 'Stay at Home' rules to the letter to help protect each other and to protect the NHS.
The 'Stay at Home' rules
The Government has set out what we all can and cannot do while England is in its current lockdown period.
We should not leave our homes or be outside our homes other than for a few specific reasons:
- To shop for basic necessities for you or a vulnerable person
- To go to work if you cannot work from home
- To provide essential voluntary or charitable services
- To exercise, once a day
- To meet your support bubble or childcare bubble, if you are legally able to form one
- To seek medical assistance including getting a COVID test
- To avoid injury or risk of harm including domestic abuse
- To attend education or childcare, if you're eligible
There are some other exceptions where you can legally leave your home such as to take a pet to the vet or for children to move between households where parents don't live together, so please check the full 'Stay at Home' advice on the Government's website.
Colleges, primary and secondary schools will be open for vulnerable children and children of key workers. All other children will learn remotely until February half term
If you do leave your home you must stay in your local area unless you need to travel for a legally permitted reason such as work
Other than for exercise, you should not meet anyone you don't live with, unless you're in a support or childcare bubble. One person can meet another individual from a different household to exercise outdoors and you should stay 2 metres apart
Funerals can still take place with up to 30 guests. Weddings and equivalent ceremonies will only be permitted in exceptional circumstances and with up to six people
These are some of the main points of the current rules; please visit www.gov.uk/coronavirus for the full details of what we can and cannot do.
Council services and how to contact us
We are having to make some changes to how we do things, but most critical Buckinghamshire Council services will carry on as usual during this lockdown period:
- Household bin collections will continue as normal (please check our website for your bin collection day especially at this time following the Christmas period)
- Road repairs and street cleaning will carry on
- Household Recycling Centres will stay open
Libraries will close during the lockdown period, but customers will still be able to borrow e-books and magazines and use online services; please keep checking our website as the libraries information is updated. Loans have been extended until 1 February and no fines will be charged
The best way to contact the Council during this period is via our Contact Centre either online or by calling us on 0300 131 6000
Council Access Points at Walton Street and The Gateway in Aylesbury, King George V House in Amersham and Queen Victoria Rd, High Wycombe will remain open for 'emergency' assistance and essential access to IT for residents to complete urgent online transactions while our libraries are closed.
Please call the Contact Centre first as they may well be able to help you complete anything you're having difficulty with so you won't need to visit us in person
As ever, please use our website as your first port of call to find out the latest information on Buckinghamshire Council services.
Support for businesses
One of my biggest priorities during this period is securing the best possible support for our local businesses. I'm pleased that the government has today announced a £4.6 billion package which will hopefully enable us to continue to support many local businesses impacted by the ongoing restrictions.
Eligible firms can still apply to us for support from the Local Restrictions Support Grant and through the discretionary scheme we put in place following the county moving into Tier 4 before Christmas.
We will need time to review the latest announcement to establish how this will become available and whether we need to amend the current schemes.
Details of how to apply for the schemes and any changes that are made following the latest announcement will be available on our online Business Support Hub.
People who are Clinically Extremely Vulnerable
The 'shielding' programme is starting again and all residents who are classed as Clinically Extremely Vulnerable will get a letter from the Government. This means there is special advice for people who are classed as 'Clinically Extremely Vulnerable'.
We will also continue to provide support as necessary for our Clinically Extremely Vulnerable residents organised through our local support hubs.
The hubs — which won't be open to the public — will act as co-ordination and distribution points for the council's volunteer support network to help with getting food to people, fuel top-up cards and help with getting medicines and medical appointments.
Please call us on 01296 395 000 if you have any questions about the 'shielding' programme.
Remember — Hands, Face, Space
I know I repeat this essential message in every email update, but in terms of guarding against catching COVID and stopping the spread, it's critical that we all keep doing the following:
- Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly
- Keep a distance from people you don't live with or who you're not in a support bubble with
- Wear a face covering where required
If you or anyone you live with develops symptoms of coronavirus your whole household must isolate and anyone with symptoms must book a test either online, via the NHS COVID-19 app or by calling 119.
Looking after ourselves and each other
This is a difficult situation for us all but with the vaccine roll out now underway, we can look forward much better times ahead.
In the meantime, if you're feeling low or anxious and want some extra help, do use our excellent local support services. You can find out more via the 'Health and Wellbeing Bucks' website.
It's never been more important that we make sure we take care of ourselves. These free online Live Life Well sessions are available from the local NHS and Bucks Adult Learning to help you do that, giving tips on stress and anxiety, healthy eating, and physical activity.
Keep checking in on each other and above all, remember that we will get through this together.
Leader of Buckinghamshire Council