I am as frustrated as any of you. This is a situation none of us wanted - it’s particularly tough on businesses that run events or depend upon having larger numbers of customers in their premises, such as pubs or restaurants but frankly it’s tough on everyone. However, the Government’s position has always been that these decisions will be led by data, not dates and unfortunately nationally the numbers are not going in the right direction at the moment. So, the main message this week is to ask everyone to hang in there a little longer and to keep following the current guidance. As has always been the case in this pandemic, there will be setbacks, but if we all work together, we can all help turn the tide as quickly as possible. Another four weeks is not so long if it enables the relaxation of restrictions to be permanent.
How to do your bit
Please keep following the current guidance on what we can and cannot do. When you do meet friends and family, err on the side of caution and try to stay outdoors where possible. Remember that around 1 in 3 people with Covid do not have symptoms.
· Take your vaccine - and your second dose - when it’s your turn (anyone aged 23 or over, or who will be 23 before 1 July is now eligible)
· Use free lateral flow tests (LFT) twice a week even if you’ve had a vaccine
· If you test positive from an LFT test, isolate your whole household and book a PCR test to confirm whether you have Covid-19. This is important to stop the virus spreading.
· If you develop symptoms of Covid-19, isolate your whole household and book a PCR test for anyone with symptoms
· Where possible, stay outside and meet others in the fresh air – if you are indoors, try to make sure there’s plenty of ventilation
· Carry on working from home where you can and in agreement with your employer
· Wear your face covering when it’s needed
Regular testing really helps us detect cases and it’s very easy to do. We have mobile testing units moving around the county and you can get up to date information on where they are by checking our social media channels (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram)
The situation in Buckinghamshire
We do know cases are rising again in Buckinghamshire although infection rates overall are much lower than in most other parts of the UK. We also know that the ‘Delta’ variant is now the dominant variant, and that it’s more infectious. On the plus side, hospitalisations and deaths in Bucks remain at very low levels at the moment, showing that the vaccine is currently weakening the link between infections and death and serious illness.
However, we also know that the more cases we get, there will be more people who do become ill, or be more at risk of long-Covid. And the more infections there are, sadly the more deaths there will be amongst people who aren’t fully vaccinated, or for whom the vaccines don’t work as well. This is why we all need to take a really cautious approach as outlined above. For the latest data on Bucks please see the Covid dashboard on our website.
It was heartening to hear the evidence from the chief scientists last night that two doses of the current vaccines do offer good protection against the ‘Delta’ variant and that the Government is able to accelerate the national vaccination programme. The analysis suggests:
· the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is 96% effective against hospitalisation after 2 doses
· the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is 92% effective against hospitalisation after 2 doses
So please do take your vaccine when it’s offered, and make sure you attend both first and second dose appointments.
Overall, 568,967 vaccinations have now been given in Buckinghamshire and the local programme is going really well. Vaccines should be booked via the national system online or by calling 119 and most people will be given an appointment at one of many local sites close to where they live. There are community sites run by pharmacies and some larger mass vaccination sites too such as the Guttmann vaccination centre at Stoke Mandeville Stadium.
If you’re eligible and haven’t had your Covid vaccine yet, you may get a call from the Contact Tracing team from this week. This will predominantly be for people aged 30+ who haven’t had their first dose yet. They will be letting you know of drop-in clinics happening over the next few weeks. You can read more information on the CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group) website.
Working with businesses and the HSE
As I have already said, we know this extra delay is bad news for many local businesses and I want to thank all business owners and customers for all you are doing to operate in a Covid-safe way.
We are also working with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to offer support and advice to businesses to ensure they have the right Covid-secure measures in place. This is not about a ‘big brother’ approach but is about working with businesses to check they have all they need to make sure their premises are safe.
Teams will be making calls and visits to all types of businesses to check that measures they’ve put in place to manage the risk from Covid are in line with current guidance. There will be a special focus on convenience stores and small food outlets across the county - the teams will do some spot checks and carry out inspections where there are any concerns about the Covid measures they have in place, such as their risk assessments, social distancing measures and ventilation.
We know how much effort our businesses are going to keeping staff and customers safe, and so thank you again for all you are doing whilst these necessary restrictions remain in place.
Just a quick note to say that sadly, evidence has shown that scammers are exploiting the pressures the pandemic has put people under and there’s been a particular rise in scammers targeting people with finance-related schemes.
Please be on your guard for “Get Rich Quick” schemes or phone calls, emails or texts pretending to be from your bank asking you to move your money or provide your personal details. These people are manipulating the situation created by the pandemic in the worst way – as a Friends Against Scams Organisation we are supporting the Citizen’s Advice Scams Awareness Fortnight (14-27 June) and will be posting lots of advice on our social media channels so keep a look out for that.
In conclusion, please stay safe, stay cautious, and make the most of the fresh air and better weather we had to wait so long for this year!
Leader, Buckinghamshire Council