After such a trying year for everyone, I just hope the Christmas break brought some well-deserved respite. Although we were not able to celebrate in the way we would usually like to, I do hope you were able to stay in touch with friends and loved ones, by telephone, or ‘virtually’ if not in person.
I have to say that for some of us, it was a blessed change from the usual relentless torrent of emails and Zoom-type meetings.
Unfortunately, our local COVID case numbers continue to increase sharply. In the last week (18 – 24 December) there were 554 new cases of COVID-19 in Solihull, a rate of 256 per 100,000 people, an increase of 26.7% compared with the previous week. The average area in England had a rate of 267.
Following the Health Secretary’s announcement this afternoon, the West Midlands Combined Authority Area (including Solihull) and Warwickshire will move into Tier 4 from midnight tonight.
Although unwelcome, this move is now essential to halt and drive the R rate back down. Without these measures we run the very real risk of seeing our NHS unable to cope with increasing hospitalisations.
The key things to note in Tier 4 are as follows;
- You must not leave or be outside of your home or garden except for a specific purpose: food, medical reasons, education or work
- You cannot meet other people indoors, including over the New Year period, unless you live with them, or they are part of your support bubble
- Outdoors you can only meet one person from another household
- Do not travel unless necessary
- Work from home if you can
The full guidance for Tier 4 can be found here (https://www.gov.uk/guidance/tier-4-stay-at-home)
Our Director of Public Health has responded to today’s announcement and provided some further context as to why Solihull is entering Tier 4. You can read Ruth Tennant’s statement here.
No one doubts how difficult these ongoing restrictions are, but quite frankly something had to be done, and done quickly. I hope you accept that these restrictions are being put in place to protect us all, the vulnerable members of our community and our NHS in particular. You will have seen for yourself in the media some of the problems our hospitals are facing. We must continue to observe social distancing, wear a face covering (unless exempt) and regularly wash our hands. We know this helps reduce transmission and the number of our people tragically losing their lives to this virus.
The Council will continue to offer whatever support we can to individuals and businesses as we move through the coming weeks and months.
In terms of our younger people, I welcome the announcement today by the Education Secretary to delay the opening of secondary schools, which will allow for a staggered approach to in-school testing for all students and staff in our borough’s secondary schools and colleges. I would like to thank all our school leaders for the immense amount of work they have put in during 2020 to manage COVID, that has kept children in school as far as is possible.
Finally, a word on Brexit. MP’s voted today to approve the government’s Trade Deal with the EU, which was agreed last week.
There will be new rules for businesses and citizens from 1 January 2021, when the current transition period ends. While it seems we have avoided a no deal outcome and the inevitable disruption that would have entailed, it is still important that individuals and businesses check if they are impacted by the new rules and make any necessary preparations.
You can use the government’s Brexit checker to get a personalised list of actions and sign up for email updates explaining what you need to do. https://www.gov.uk/transition
2020 is a year that most of us would like to forget; as we prepare to see in the New Year, it’s clear there are still huge challenges ahead. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel with the fantastic news today that the Oxford – AstraZeneca vaccine has now been approved for use in the UK, with roll out set to begin on 4 January. This adds to the rollout of the Pfizer vaccine already underway. It was great to see some of our care home staff and residents receiving their first doses during Christmas week and many other older people have been vaccinated at hospital or by local GPs and nurses already. My thanks go to all those out there in the front line helping with all this work, and indeed to all those trying to keep daily life going in these difficult times. Your efforts are so much appreciated.
Look after yourselves – but the only way the current relentless rise in infection cases can be stopped is to reduce our contact with others as much as possible and to remember “hands -face- space”, especially keeping one’s distance from others.
Councillor Ian Courts, Leader of Solihull Council, 30 December 2020